The Top 5 Ways to Raise Your Nature Engagement Levels: aka N.E.L.s

Colorful fall leaves at the Great Smoky Mountains

For 100 years, the National Park Service has worked to protect and preserve the natural, cultural, and historical treasures that we all love – America’s national parks. What you may not realize is that the parks are also preserving and protecting us.

Exposure to the great outdoors comes with immeasurable health benefits, but as our lives continue to get busier, more confined, and sedentary, it becomes harder to spend time outdoors. Americans now spend 93 percent of their lives indoors.

Humana and the National Park Foundation are celebrating the health benefits our national parks offer and encouraging Americans to increase their Nature Engagement Levels (N.E.L.s), a way to test if they are getting enough lakes, trees and sunshine in their lives to stay in peak health, and a way to Start With Healthy.

Plants in offices and beach wallpapers on computer screens are some of the most popular choices in the workplace today and there’s a reason why. Scientific research has shown that simply viewing scenes of nature can reduce anger, fear, and stress and increase pleasant feelings.

But nature isn’t just a mood booster. It can also reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

N.E.L.s are the inspiration for Humana’s Bring the Parks to You Tour. By traveling the country and showcasing innovative virtual reality technology of the national parks, Humana will share stunning 360 degree video of some of our nation’s most iconic treasure. The technology will motivate you to start your nature adventure by getting outdoors.

So ask yourself: are you getting enough exposure to nature?

If you answered ‘no,’ here are 5 easy ways to start increasing your N.E.L.s:

Start with a Sunrise

Sunrise through a sandstone arch at Canyonlands National Park
David Soldano, Share the Experience

Whether from a mountaintop, a beach, or your backyard, watching the sunrise can be a beautiful and moving and healthy way to start your day. Watching the sunrise can balance circadian rhythms, improving mood and restfulness.

Start By Bringing Nature to Work

Images of national parks posted in an office cubicle

Busy schedules and mounting responsibilities make it difficult to get outside during the work week. Luckily you can still enjoy the health benefits of the outdoors by redecorating your workspace: consider placing a plant on your desk or changing your desktop background to a beautiful view of nature. Both have been shown to have calming and rejuvenating effects.

If you’re feeling particularly inspired, host outdoor meetings or “walk and talks” around your building. Vitamin D and exposure to sunlight have been linked to increased focus levels and happiness.

Start by Exercising Your Mind

Visiting museums or monuments within the National Park System is a great way to make you sharper, smarter and more informed. An important piece of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is continually exercising the mind. Sites like the Thomas Edison National Historical Park offer guided tours, interactive experiences, and a host of fun activities to entertain and educate their many visitors.

Start by Making Meals an Outdoor Experience

Picnic on the beach with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background
Mike Klimas (Instagram @gtr_mike)

Americans spend an average of 8 hours and 13 minutes a week preparing and eating food. Considering the average American spends just under 12 hours a week outdoors, moving your meal times outside could drastically increase your N.E.L.s and give you a chance to unplug and truly enjoy your food in a new environment.

For bonus points, consider growing your own garden. Getting your hands in dirt is a wonderful way of connecting with nature and has been shown to have calming and rejuvenating properties. If you don’t have room for your own garden, many neighborhoods have community gardens or space to start one.

Start with a Hike

Person walking on a wooden walkway at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Claudia Cooper, Share the Experience

Avid hikers report high levels of happiness, fulfillment, and a deep sense of connection with the world around them. Still need more motivation? Studies have shown that the color green increases motivation to engage in rigorous activity. So being outside on a spring day may actually make you want to be healthier. Hiking trails can be found in state and national parks across America. There are probably some closer than you think!

So how are your N.E.L.s? Are you “bursting with boulders” or “short on shorelines?” Find out by clicking here and taking this National Geographic quiz sponsored by Humana. Be sure to visit Humana’s Facebook and YouTube pages to check out the 360 degree videos of the national parks.

Great things are ahead of you when you #StartwithHealthy. Go #FindYourPark and raise your N.E.L.s. today!

Photo credits: Sunrise at Canyonlands National Park by David Soldano, Thomas Edison National Historical Site by National Park Service, Picnic at Golden Gate National Recreation Area by Mike Klimas; John Day Fossil Beds National Monument by Claudia Cooper via Share the Experience Photo Contest.

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