Spending time outside can mean a healthier, happier you. During spring and summer, warmer temperatures and fragrant flowers beckon us to go outside. Yet most of us will resist the temptation: according to one government estimate, we spend 90 percent of our lives indoors.
But what if we knew that being outside offers measurable health benefits? Just take a look at what science says about the physical and mental advantages of spending time outside.
Health Benefits of Being Outdoors
Increased Vitamin D Levels
Perhaps the best outdoor boost to our health comes from vitamin D, which our bodies create when sunshine hits our skin. Vitamin D may have protective powers against everything from osteoporosis to cancer, and help prevent depression, heart attacks, and stroke.
Almost all of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sunshine. Long exposure to direct sunlight requires sunscreen, which inhibits vitamin D production. But spending just 15 to 20 minutes outside, especially in the morning or evening, is a safe and healthy way to get your vitamin D.
Sunlight for Better Mood
Lack of sunlight during the winter months is associated with a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Experts are not sure what causes SAD, but they hypothesize that a lack of natural light disrupts our biological clock, which controls our sleeping patterns. Lack of light also may affect serotonin, a brain chemical that influences mood. SAD is far less common during the long days of spring and summer, mostly due to the greater abundance of natural light.
For Otterbein resident Rhea V., finding sunlight is an everyday experience. “Our home has a sun porch, which is the highlight of our living experience,” she says. “Plus, we border a green space with a pond and trees and a lovely setting. There are so many fun activities — I feel like I’m at summer camp 365 days a year!”
Even just smelling the outdoors can have a measurable effect on our mental health. Flowers such as lilacs and roses can work as stress-busters, and the scent of pine needles may lower depression and anxiety.
Boosted Brain Power
Walking among trees has been shown to improve short-term memory by almost 20 percent and restore one’s ability to focus.
A recent study in Japan found that people who walked in a forest for just 15 minutes experienced a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate when compared to people who walked for the same amount of time on city streets.
Reduced Pollutants and Better Healing
Studies show that by spending time outside, you can counteract some of the pollutants that may increase inflammation and fatigue. In one study, surgery patients experienced less pain and stress when they were exposed to natural light.
Natural environments have even been shown to have a positive effect on the human immune system.
With all these advantages, it’s no wonder that older adults who get outside on a daily basis seem to stay healthy and active longer. So, the next time you sense the call of the great outdoors, be sure to answer by heading out the door. You can be sure your heart, mind, and body will thank you!
More Health and Wellness Tips From Otterbein
Taking care of your whole self is one of the best ways to stay healthy and active for years to come. You may be interested in a copy of Complete Wellness: Your Guide to a More Fulfilling Life, for more tips and strategies to try.