As spring finally begins to melt the last piles of dingy parking lot snow, many people feel compelled to get outside to enjoy the weather they’ve missed while hibernating in their cozy cabins. But after the first beautiful day or two, many return to their sedentary indoor life. Then, they wonder why they don’t feel their best. But the benefits of fresh air and sunshine really do abound!
Getting outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine improves everything from physical to mental health. Just as importantly, spending time in nature soothes and revitalizes weary souls. Here are six fantastic health benefits of getting out there and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors.
Why supplement with vitamin D when spending some time soaking up the sun helps your body produce much of the D vitamin it needs? Vitamin D is just one of the benefits of fresh air and sunshine. It helps the body convert calcium into a usable form to build strong, healthy bones. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to brittle bones and fractures. Arthritis is an example of a familiar bone problem deterred by sufficient Vitamin D.
Vitamin D doesn’t just help bone growth — it can help you stave off the dreaded spring cold that keeps you in when you want to go out! Vitamin D makes the body more resistant to catching nasty germs. In addition to Vitamin D, UV rays harm microorganisms that would otherwise make you sick when they come into contact with you. Bacteria thrives in the dark, so step out into the sun whenever you can.
Beyond bones and bacteria, Vitamin D combats muscle and back pain and improves muscle movement. Muscle weakness is more likely to attack when you lack Vitamin D. Of course, if you get outside and movie those joints regularly, you’ll stave off these problems. When your muscles work improperly, your bones follow suit. Strengthening one helps the other.
One thing that’s yucky about winter is regularly breathing dry, indoor air. If the air at home or work contains particles of black mold, cigarette smoke or other toxins, constant cold or allergy symptoms can result.
Interestingly, particles of dust lurking around areas limited in regular sunshine carry more bacteria. Pull back your curtains, open a window and let there be light! You reduce your chances of contracting an illness when you do.
Walking outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine benefits respiratory function significantly. The Lung Institute recommends walking outdoors regularly to improve your breathing. Taking deep breaths of clean, open air increases your body’s oxygen levels and boosts cell efficiency. When your cells do their best work, the clouds clear from your mind, and you achieve new levels of mental clarity.
Walking outdoors can improve brain and central nervous system functioning. Spending time outdoors allows the mind to focus on things other than worries and cares, which often leads to innovative solutions to problems. Some research indicates that those suffering from headache issues benefit from going outside to head off a pending attack. Excessive light can worsen migraines, however, so slide on a pair of shades if it’s an exceptionally sunny day.
Going outdoors also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part that helps calm the body after the flight-or-fight response of the sympathetic nervous system. Do an outdoor activity like gardening or bird watching to keep your mind relaxed and focused on only one subject. As far too many people today worry constantly, getting outdoors can keep the body from producing excess cortisol, which can lead to poor health.
Cortisol, though useful in moderation, is one of the main hormones responsible for your jittery nerves and inability to cease worrying. Everyone knows that excessive stress damages the body — for some, this happens quicker than others. Hop up for a quick walk outside whenever you feel major stress piling on! You’ll discover how fresh air and sunshine regulates your cortisol levels and leaves you cool, calm and collected.
The human immune system benefits greatly from a bit of outdoor air and sun. According to Dr. Ming Kuo at the University of Illinois, spending time in nature reduces the risk of anything from ADHD to cardiac disease. Scientists have long associated UV ray exposure with skin cancer, which is true — but moderate doses of sun prevent pancreatic, ovarian and colon cancers. Soak up a reasonable amount of rays as a preventative measure and keep your sunscreen on hand.
Heading to the park or local nature preserve may help those with common autoimmune disorders to alleviate or at least improve their condition. Those with lupus, MS, rheumatoid arthritis and any inflammatory bowel disease benefit from taking a walk around the block when they feel a flare coming on. It may not entirely prevent the oncoming flare, but it may very well lessen the severity.
Our hectic, always connected world leaves many people in a state of anxiety. This can lead to the development of anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety. While anxiety disorders are treatable with a combination of medication and talk therapy, getting outdoors helps reduce tension naturally.
Lack of vitamin D links to depression and its other forms, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many people dread winter because SAD primarily affects them at this time of year. It also plagues those inhabiting icy locations lacking consistent sunlight. The absence of sun causes this disorder by throwing internal body systems out of whack. Light therapy, which exposes the patient to bright lights without the fear of UV radiation, can successfully treat symptoms of SAD.
In one study, researchers found that those who looked at pictures of nature before taking a stress assessment showed increased activity by the parasympathetic nervous system. Another found that those who viewed spectacular nature pictures such as waterfalls or the stunning rock formations of the American Southwest improved their moods even more than those who looked at more general images of nature, such as parks.
Not everyone lives close enough to places so beautiful that they take the breath away. But when you’re booking a vacation, opt for destinations that will get the entire family out in the sunshine and clean mountain (or ocean) air. The whole purpose of getting away is to rejuvenate, so why not do so in nature, a place perfectly suited for physical, mental and emotional renewal?
Getting out and soaking in the sunny, fresh spring air can make getting enough Zzz’s far easier. Everyone has an interior clock that tells the body when to sleep and when to wake up, but when people stay up late staring at screens, insomnia can rear its nasty head. Heading to the great outdoors, especially for those who camp out overnight, resets this internal clock and makes falling asleep easier.
Taking in fresh air and sunshine at a regular time each day stabilizes your sleep schedule by halting melatonin production. You’ll be less sleepy throughout your day — no more naps on your lunch break! Napping too long during the day makes it harder to fall asleep at night. Even if getting some shut-eye feels good in the moment, it’ll come back to bite later. Regulating your sleep schedule with outdoor activity remedies this!
Additionally, getting outside encourages exercise — even if it’s mild. Taking a stroll through the park burns some calories, as does hiking, climbing or swimming. Working out also heightens your oxygen saturation, which keeps oxygen levels from dipping low at night while you sleep. Low oxygen during restful hours is dangerous because it incites sleep apnea, which causes its sufferers to stop breathing during sleep. Those who exercise find falling asleep and staying asleep much easier.
The return of the sun makes everyone anxious to explore the great outdoors. Getting out, breathing the fresh air and taking a bit of exercise improves almost every aspect of physical and mental health. Celebrate spring by getting out in nature and improving the way you feel!