8 Ways to Enjoy Your Yard Daily
Spending more time outside is good for your body and your mood; here are 8 ways.
How much time do you spend in your yard? I’m truly curious, so please answer my poll below. (Respondents get to see how others answer, too.)
The average American spends only 7.6 percent of their time outside — slightly more than the 5.5 percent of time we spend in enclosed vehicles. Roughly half this time — an hour a day — is spent in their or another’s yard. The rest of the time we’re indoors in enclosed buildings.
This data from the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) is 25 years old. But do you really think people spend more time outside now than in the late 1990s?
Sure, the pandemic got more people gardening and hiking, but it also tripled the number of us working from home. Cutting out commuting dramatically decreases the amount of time we spend outside. In fact, a quarter of the time people spent outside in the 1990s was spent near a vehicle, presumably going to and from their car or other transportation.
And it’s not just Americans who spend the vast majority of our time indoors. An activity pattern study of 12 countries concluded,
The finding that emerges is that we are basically an indoor species. . . . In a modern society, total time outdoors is the most insignificant part of the day, often so small that it barely shows up in the total. — W.R. Ott, quoted in Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology
Before you start feeling superior — as I did when I read these stats — recognize that 7.6 percent amounts to almost two hours per day (55 hours a month). I’m not sure I beat that average; how about you?
And that’s serious, because being outdoors is so good for us. To start with, as we learned during the pandemic, outdoor air quality is generally much better than indoor air.
Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. — EPA
Outdoor time is especially valuable if it’s in green spaces, as opposed to parking lots. In fact, a recent study found that living near green space adds 2.5 years to your life, on average. So here are my suggestions for activities to do regularly to increase the time you spend in your yard:
1. Do some yard work.
I was shocked to learn that the average American spends about an hour a day on yard upkeep during the warmer months. But nothing wrong with that! In addition to getting you outside into restorative green space, yard work is good exercise.
So if you’re outsourcing to a mow and blow crew, maybe consider taking on some work yourself. It’ll be better for you and better for the environment. You can put some of the money you save into a battery-operated mower and stop using fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides. And maybe you’ll love it.
But ecological yard maintenance can be less time consuming than the average (see below), so try these other enjoyable ways to use your yard:
2. Make a slow circuit, regularly.
If you live in a free-standing house, make a habit of doing the circuit of your yard. Pick a time and do it daily. Good times include early morning or after dinner when it’s cooler or during the day as a break from remote work. To slow yourself down, take a beverage — coffee, ice water, wine — and closely observe changes since the day before.
As I wrote recently, I do this circuit first thing in the morning to see what’s newly blooming. I use the Picture This app to identify unknown plants and track new blooms to compare year-over-year in this simple journal. I also take work breaks — as I’m going to do right now. . . .
3. Identify birds by their sounds.
Whether you have a small, urban yard or a large, country estate, you can spend time identifying nearby birds by their sounds using the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin app. The best times are morning and evening, because birds also prefer cooler air. Pete regularly identifies the birds he hears when he walks Sukey in the morning, mentally comparing the number and types day to day.
4. Make every day a picnic.
It seems obvious, but sometimes we need reminders. It’s been so rainy here in the northeast that we’ve gotten out of the habit, so I’m making a mental note for myself to have one meal each day outside when weather permits. That might be morning coffee at a small table in a remote corner. Or a family barbecue and dinner each night. I had friends who cooked every meal outside for a year while they renovated their kitchen. And why not?
5. Take your work or a book outside.
As long as it’s not TOO hot, move your work outside. We just got an extender for our Wi-Fi to make it easier. Or just take a break with a book on a lounge. I’m making this a regular late afternoon activity.
6. Imagine your next project.
I spend an inordinate amount of time wandering around the yard thinking about the next stage, then measuring and placing flags to mark a possible design. Then I ponder. Etc. If you’re a planner like me, this is fun.
7. Enjoy the view from inside.
This isn’t going to increase the amount of time you spend outside, but maximizing ways to look at your garden from inside will certainly add to your joy — especially if you live where the summer heat outside is unbearable. I’ve positioned my desk perpendicular to the windows so I can see our new hedge as I work. (Look there’s a clouded sulfur butterfly!) We turned our porch into the dining room. And our indoor seating is arranged to see the yard and the plants outside are arranged to be viewed from inside. Pete spotted a hummingbird from the living room window just this morning.
8. Just lie down in the grass and look at the sky.
Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. — John Lubbock
— The Avant Gardener
Why, How, Wow!
There’s lots of research that proves being outside in nature is good for our mental and physical health. For example, spending time in a diverse natural environment, as opposed to a monoculture lawn, increases the diversity of your microbiome.
And recent studies show impressive benefits from yard work. For older women, only yard work rivals weight training for building bone density.
Findings from the present study indicate that jogging, swimming and calisthenics were weak predictors for high bone density values. Bicycling, aerobics, walking and dancing were moderate predictors for positive bone density. Yard work and weight training were strong and independent predictors for positive bone density. — Journal of Women & Aging
Frankly, I am not one of the almost half of Americans who apparently love mowing and/or gardening — and I apparently spend much less time doing yard work than most.
The average American reported that during the warmer months, they will spend six hours every month just mowing the lawn. On top of that, they spend three hours edging the yard per month, four hours pulling weeds, four more hours tending to the garden, three hours laying mulch, four hours watering the lawn, and eight hours doing additional miscellaneous tasks — equaling 32 hours in total. — New York Post
Pete and I average about 13 hours each per month, mostly mowing (Pete) and cutting weeds (Heather). That’s about two hours per week — not counting all the time I spend wandering around imagining and measuring.
Not all ecological landscapes look like prairies. Doesn’t this yard, designed to evoke “a weathered driftwood aesthetic,” make you want to spend time outside?
As part of the dunescape restoration, approximately 6,700 cubic yards of sand was utilized to elevate the dune by ten feet on average, and more than 25,000 plugs of American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) were planted to stabilize the dune. Additionally, native shrub plantings including bayberry, beach plum and beach heather further complement the dunescape, providing a more diverse ecological environment. — The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Want to watch birds from your windows? Plant one of the berry bushes native to your region in this list from Birds and Blooms.
Curious about nature and your microbiome? Learn more in Your Gut and Your Garden.
Ready to adopt an ecological approach to weeding? Read The Latest on Weeds.