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Improve Your Health Outdoors

We can’t deny it: Most of us live very fast-paced lives with technology at our fingertips, and between work, watching the kids, cooking, cleaning, watching TV and connecting online, we don’t spend much time outdoors. We actually spend about 90% of our time indoors — a reality that would be hard to believe just decades ago.

What would spending more time outside do for us? According to research, quite a bit. There are plenty of reasons to get some fresh air more often.

It’s better than indoor pollution. Studies done by the Environmental Protection Agency have found that concentrations of some indoor pollutants are 2-5 times higher than those outdoors. Things like fireplaces, cooking appliances, chemicals from furnishings and building materials are all examples of these pollutants. Air pollutant levels alone can be 25-62% higher than outdoor air levels. While ensuring proper ventilation will help, it’s ideal to get outside even for a short while every day.

It’s kinder to your eyes. Several studies have connected time indoors with the prevalence of myopia (nearsightedness) in children, with results showing that more time outdoors lowers the chance of developing the condition. Among adults, spending time outdoors gives our eyes a break from the screen, allowing them to focus on distant objects and work different muscles. In doing so, they have the chance to relax and recover.

It’s the best way to get vitamin D. Considering that 75% of Americans aren’t getting enough of it, vitamin D is something sunlight can help with, as the foods we eat don’t provide as much of this vitamin as we need. Low vitamin D levels are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, pregnancy complications, Alzheimer’s and other conditions — so it’s crucial to get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight on a daily basis.

It lowers stress. Have you ever gone for a walk midway through your work day and felt much better when you returned? It’s amazing what a quick walk can do amidst stress. Study participants have reported lower levels of stress after walks, and walking through nature in particular reduces the stress hormone cortisol in the blood.

It improves sleep. Most of us could stand to sleep better at night, but we may not realize that our sleep quality is impacted by our exposure to sunlight due to its influence on our circadian rhythm and hormones like melatonin. The St. Louis University School of Medicine found that natural sunlight helps reset our body’s internal clocks, and for sleep patterns to improve, people need 30-60 minutes of sunlight each day.

It will get you moving. We naturally move more when we go outside, and we actually exert more energy when we exercise outdoors as opposed to indoors. This means we’re benefiting our body physically no matter the activity, and because people tend to enjoy outdoor exercise more, they do it for longer periods, thus burning more calories.

It improves your attention and memory. University of Illinois researchers discovered that after a 20-minute walk in green areas, children with ADHD were able to focus more successfully than after walks in other areas. Another set of researchers from the University of Michigan found similar results with adults who, after spending time in nature, had a 20% improvement in short-term memory.

It boosts your immune system. More than one study has shown that participants who walked among trees in a forest setting (and thus inhaled natural particles of the forest air) had increased activity of cells that fight infection as shown by post-study blood tests. Impressively, the improved immune function was still present 30 days after the walk.

It gives you more energy. Connecting with nature gives us more vitality and fends off feelings of exhaustion, as 90% of people have shared they have more energy when they’re engaging in activities outside. This is why we should establish the habit of getting outdoors when we’re fatigued rather than reaching for more caffeine.

It helps you feel happier. Spending time outside is an amazing way to clear your mind. By naturally increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain, the feel-good chemical, you boost your mental well-being. This is particularly helpful to those who battle symptoms of depression. The amount of sunlight you get has a direct effect on your brain’s serotonin level, regardless of the current season.

Can you tell we were made for the outdoors? Be sure to get out there today.