Life today can be so fast-paced and technology-packed. Between work, the commute, taking care of the loved ones, cooking and cleaning, watching television, connecting on social media, and more, and average of 90% of time is spent indoors. A mere 50 years ago this would be virtually unheard of!
Unfortunately, all this indoor time is having a negative impact on your health and the health of your children. In fact, the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ was coined in 2005 to describe a list of behavioural and health symptoms in children that can be directly related to lack of outdoor time. The time to unplug, turn off, stop, take a breather and get outside is now. This can be challenging in the colder, darker winter months, but committing to even a few minutes of outdoor time on a regular, daily basis can have a huge impact on your well-being.
If you are feeling resistant, need a little extra motivation or are concerned you have no time for yet another activity deemed ‘necessary’ to maintain health, here a few reasons why you cannot afford not to get that fresh air and natural light:
1. Reduces Stress.
You may have already experienced this – you are feeling stressed out at home or in the office, you take a quick walk and voila! You instantly feel better and more equipped to cope.
Science backs up this experience. Studies have found that after taking nature walks, people reported lower levels of stress. Taking a walk (even a short one) in a green area can put the brain in a meditative state, with results so profound they showed up on EEG (electroencephalography) recordings.
Adding a few trees into the mix only adds to the experience. These were the findings from yet another study, which found that ‘forest bathing’—the practice of walking through the forest—reduced levels of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ in the blood, and decreased stress and anxiety. It also reduced blood pressure heart rate and fatigue and improved mood.
2. Supplies Natural Vitamin D
Chances are that you are not getting sufficient amounts of Vitamin D, largely due to spending too much time indoors. This has become so concerning that vitamin D deficiency has been labelled a pandemic!
As a society, North Americans (and many in the Western World) are deprived of sunlight, and the foods consumed that naturally contain vitamin D do not contain enough to satisfy even basic (let alone optimal) requirements. Many assume that the best way to acquire Vitamin D is through drinking milk, eating fish, or even taking supplements like cod liver oil. However direct exposure to the sun is actually the best way to absorb Vitamin D
Low vitamin D levels have been directly linked to a myriad of health concerns from an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, hip fractures, and pregnancy complications.
Sadly, the over-use of sunscreens prevents the body from acquiring and absorbing any of this crucial element when many do go outdoors. Aim for at least 15 minutes of direct sun exposure on your skin every day when the weather is warmer (during the early morning or late afternoon is always best to prevent burning – your body’s natural way of telling you you are getting too much). Although supplementation is an option, getting your nutrients in the most natural form possible always ensures your body is able to utilize them best!
3. Improves Sleep.
How well you sleep has a lot to do with both your hormones and your own natural circadian rhythm. Both of these are affected by your exposure to light, natural sunlight, most of all. If you spend too much time indoors, you become isolated from the source of your body’s natural rhythms, and your sleep cycle is likely to suffer.
If you want to get good sleep, you have to have properly aligned circadian rhythms. If not, the varying aspects of your waking/sleeping system will be working at the wrong time. Insomnia is a common side effect of an improperly timed circadian clock and can have a significantly detrimental effect on your brain function and ability to perform.
It has been noted that natural sunlight helps set our body’s internal clock, and that people need to get between 30-60 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight for sleep patterns to improve. Getting outside is vital for reminding your body of its natural rhythms.
4. Promotes Happiness.
As with stress reduction, time outside will support your mental wellbeing. It naturally boosts levels of serotonin, your ‘feel good’ brain chemical. One study measured serotonin levels in a group of 101 healthy men during each of the four seasons, and found that regardless of the season, the level of serotonin in the brain was affected by the amount of sunlight on any given day.
People who frequently take walks in nature experience reduced symptoms of depression and enhanced mental well-being. This may not only improve your positive daily emotions, but may also contribute to a non-pharmacological approach to more serious conditions like depression.
5. Boosts Immunity.
Spending more time outdoors and in nature boosts you immune system. Studies have shown that the natural participants ‘phytoncides’ (particles of a-pinene and limonene from the wood of the forest trees) that you breathe in when spending time in treed areas increases the activity of your immune system and disease fighting cells. What makes this even more important is that the effects of increased immune function are still present up to 30 days after the walk!
6. Provides a Natural Energy Boost.
The next time you are feeling depleted or low on energy, resist the urge to reach for that cup of coffee and get outside for a few minutes. Nature is fuel for the soul and research suggests that a more effective way to get energized is to connect with nature. Being outside helps ward off feelings of exhaustion, and you may already have experienced increased energy when you are enjoying outdoor activities!
7. Outdoor Air Is Cleaner
According to the EPA, your indoor environment is between two and five times more polluted and/or toxic than your outdoor environment, and in some cases, the air measurements indoors have been found to be 100 times more polluted.
Worse yet, the most common indoor pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health. Indoors, you are exposed to carbon monoxide, particulate matter from fireplaces and cooking appliances and a number of harsh chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and flame retardants. Chemicals from furnishings, building materials, household and office products and the like can emit particles into the air. Furthermore, indoors you re exposed to mold, dirt, dust, and pet dander.
Increasing ventilation will help, but an even better option for your health to get outside a little every day. If you feel yourself experiencing symptoms like burning eyes, breathing problems, scratchy throat, headaches, brain fog, and fatigue, you may be spending too much time breathing indoor air.
When we go outside, we naturally move more – a wonderful consequence of creating your daily outdoor routine. Clearly, nature is in your blood, it forms part of your make-up and getting outdoors to spend some time in it would seem to come with the territory. Do yourself and your health a favor this week and hit the great outdoors!