I was sitting next to a campfire in my backyard when I decided to do it. After a summer of spending at least a little time outside every day, I wanted to know: what would happen if I spent a set amount of time outside every day for at least a year?
That was 1,000 days ago.
When I set out on this journey I picked 20 minutes as my minimum daily time — 20 consecutive minutes outside each and every day.
I picked 20 minutes for a few reasons. First, a few studies I read noted that the “dosage” of outdoor time required to see benefits started around a mere five minutes and the longer folks spent outside, the more benefits they saw, up until around 45 minutes. Twenty minutes seemed like a minimum amount of time that I, personally, felt I would need.
But if there’s one thing I learned from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, it’s that the most important part of picking a resolution or challenge is to pick something you’ll actually do. Twenty minutes, I decided, was a minimum time commitment that I knew I could insert into my day. It also sounded like a doable commitment for those challenging, cold winter months.
Since then I have spent countless hours outdoors. I have tried new things, run over 2,300 miles, traveled, experienced and just lived. So what have I learned during my 1,000 days outside? Here are just a few things.
1. You really do have time to go outside every day.
When I first started my challenge, I worried that there would be some days that I didn’t even have 20 minutes to get outside. I’ve long been a fan of time management and productivity tricks, so my schedule was already pretty packed and mastered. How would I squeeze out 20 minutes every single day, even during work travel days?
The answer: you just do. Yes, it means not doing something else for those 20 minutes. It means being purposeful. It means taking the time to know that you have to fit this into your day, no matter the weather — and say you will and you do.
2. You should try everything once.
I’ve tried a lot of new things over these 1,000 days — a variety of skiing; snowboarding; snowshoe running; mountain running; paddle-boarding; shooting; dog sledding; chainsawing; backpacking; ATVing; and sea kayaking just to name a few. I can honestly say that we haven’t done anything that I’ve absolutely hated, although ATVing wasn’t my favorite because I get motion sick.
Were it not for this challenge I probably wouldn’t have tried most of these things. I’m a creature of habit, and I probably would’ve just stuck to what I was already doing (…running, mostly).
3. Stop being ridiculous and buy the jacket.
I’m embarrassed by how long I resisted buying a nice, really warm down puffy jacket. Or maybe I didn’t know what I was missing by not having it. But this winter I borrowed one of Luke’s puffy jackets on a cold day and quickly realized how much I was missing out by not being that warm in a coat of my own.
Why did I wait? Why was I being so ridiculous? For $200 I got the warmest, coziest Mountain Hardwear jacket ever in a screaming deal, and boy was that an awesome day. Why was I being ridiculous? Why didn’t I buy the jacket earlier? It made such a huge difference for my comfort and how much I wanted to be outside the rest of the winter.
Someone out there needs to hear this: stop being ridiculous and buy the jacket — or whatever piece of outdoor gear it is that’s standing between you and enjoying the outdoors.
4. Some time outside is better than no time outside
Over my 1,000 days I have spent outdoor time in less than desirable places. I have wandered city streets in the dark after a long day of travel. I have paced up and down airport drop-off areas. I have stood in a single slice of sunshine in a pet relief area at another airport. I have wandered through the dark straight into gusting wind in the dead of Alaska winter. I have stood under a bus shelter in the pouring rain without a rain jacket. I have walked through city streets on a lunch break.
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Really testing the definition of 20 minutes outside today. Missed my chance to go for a walk when it wasn’t raining — and now it’s absolutely pouring and I’m observing that real suburb life from under a bus kiosk while pausing for grabbing an Uber to dinner. This will not be the day I break my streak. 782 days and counting. #humansoutside365
Nothing about those times was ideal. But each and every one of them was more beneficial to me than no outdoor time at all.
5. The law of diminishing returns does not apply
The law of diminishing returns is an economic principle that says, basically, that the more you have of something, the lower its value. If you have a lot of chocolate, you will value it less than if you have only a little or none at all.
Over my 1,000 days I have learned that that law does not apply to going outside. (The chocolate thing is also debatable, but that’s another discussion.)
Instead, I have found the opposite to be true. The more I have of the outdoors and the more time I spend there, the more I crave it. A little sunshine makes me need more. A little time wandering the woods makes me want to do it again.
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I’m going to do this. For real. If you can do it in Alaska, I can do it in a place where it’s sunny 99% of the time!!
Count me in…downloaded my habit tracker and raring to try. I will start with three days under my belt.