When I was a child, central heating was still uncommon and our house was draughty, partly heated, and only warm in particular zones. My mother complained if doors were left open and was always telling us to put on more clothes as we “looked cold”. My father by contrast would stride outside, bringing in wood and great wafts of fresh air. He never mentioned the cold and enjoyed being outside, logging or working on the garden.
As we grow increasingly urban I wonder how many people are losing their connection with the environment on a really basic level. As we spend all our time in centrally heated rooms and dash to our heated cars do we ever get cold? Are we so continually comfortable that we have the same aversion to cold that my mother instilled (inadvertently) in us?
A couple of years ago we acquired three hens and their husbandry caused a major shift in my appreciation of this. In the early morning, rushing to get ready for work, feeding the hens and letting them out would overlap with making tea, and I would dash out to tend to them in my pyjamas, while the kettle boiled. Breaking the ice and refilling their drinker was a focused speedy activity that I carried out shivering, barefoot in my wellingtons. Stopping one day to take in a great gulp of freezing air, I realised that instead of being something to avoid, it was energising. Instead of fearing it, literally shrinking from the cold, I allowed myself to feel the sensation of cold air on my skin and to my surprise it felt good.
Is fear of being cold stopping us from being regularly exposed to the external environment. Do we only emerge from our heated cocoons when the sun breaks through? How much do we miss by staying inside when our connection to the outside world is hard wired, instinctive? And with the loss of exposure to the elements are we missing out on things which are important for our well-being, such as fresh air free from building pollutants, good emissions from plants and trees,* the beauty of the environment, the beneficial and calming effect of simply being outside? In Japan there are studies which support claims for the benefits of Shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ - that exposure to nature positively creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system.**
I am sad that my daughter will never see the fantastic patterns of frost on the inside of the windows that we used to delightedly discover as children before running shivering to the bathroom. And I would hate to know that entire generations are being starved of the beneficial effects of being outside when being cold is such a minor impediment to accessing so many health benefits.
** Shinrin Yoku: Forest Medicine. Studies so far have demonstrated reductions in stress, anger, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness amongst the subjects who have participated. In Japan there are now 44 accredited Shinrin Yoku forests. In addition, the level of the hormone serum adiponectin is also increased. When this hormone is present in low concentrations it is linked with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome, among other bodily disorders.
This post was first published on our previous blog in 2016.