Some cool things happen when you are outside.
Fall is one of my favorite times of year. It is finally comfortable to be outside here in the humid south. Mornings are crisp and days are pleasant. I spend a lot of time outside in the fall and winter months. I was discussing with Tammie (my wife) the other day about some observations I had made on several patients. There was a stark contrast in some of my older patients that “play outside” regularly vs those who do not. Generally speaking my patients that are active, and outside a lot, are so much healthier than those who are not. They are more mobile, more alert, they even look younger. It does not matter whether they are spending their time in the garden, on walks, hiking, or playing golf… this group of people are just better off.
There are likely several reasons for this. First off, they are active, their joints are moving, their blood is circulating, and they are exercising. However, I think doing outside activities has greater benefit beyond just that. I want to discuss a few here. Some are established repeatedly in the literature, others are less researched and perhaps anecdotal in nature.
It is well established that vitamin D is made when our skin is exposed to sun. We consume fats that our body turns into a form of cholesterol that, when exposed to UVb sunlight, is converted into Vitamin D. This Vitamin D is then further converted in our livers into Vitamin D3. Vitamin D has an important role in calcium absorption, immune health, healthy metabolism, and mental health. Our amazing bodies can make a sufficient amount with only 10-20 minutes of sun exposure.
More restful sleep
The natural rhythms and cycles our body uses to function are referred to as circadian rhythms. One of those cycles is the sleep cycle. Daylight is one of the regulators of that internal clock. When we spend time outside we help our internal clocks reset and this often results in better sleep. This can be especially helpful to shift workers who are more prone to sleep cycle disruptions. Early morning exposure to light is the best way to reset. This reset can happen with just a few consecutive days outside–sounds like a perfect excuse for a camping trip!
A breath of fresh air
It is more than just a saying, it is the truth! Getting outside limits your exposure to harmful toxins that are often in the air inside. The EPA has stated that pollutants are found 2 to 5 times the rate inside than they are outside. Some outliers even stated indoor pollutants can be 100 times higher than inside. (Be sure to visit my wife’s blog at www.wholemademama.com for ideas on how to reduce these pollutants and toxins inside your home, as well)
Get grounded (& barefoot)
So this is a newer concept, grounding is the theory that direct contact of our skin (namely feet) with the earth has benefits through absorption of electrons. The earth is negatively charged more so than our bodies, so contact with the ground transfers electrons to us. The rubber of our shoes prevents this, so proponents of grounding recommend going barefoot. This is said to have some energizing and anti-inflammatory effects on our body. Maybe our moms were wrong when they forced us to wear our shoes everywhere. Sorry mom!
Being in natural light and watching the world around us in real life, instead of a screen, has real benefits. Some research points to artificial light leading to a higher incidence of nearsightedness. By getting outside we also can combat computer-vision syndrome, this exposure to a computer screen for more than 2 hrs a day can lead to headaches, blurred vision, dry or red eyes, double vision, nearsightedness, and neck and back pain. When you get outside and focus on objects farther than 3 feet from your face you can stop and sometimes reverse this syndrome.
Better state of mind
Being outside regularly has massive effects on our psychological health. Studies have shown it can increase our serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. There is also a marked increase in brain activity when outside that, in turn, increases our attention span and makes us more alert!
Regardless of why we do it, getting outside is good for us! We could all use more of it. My patients that are outside more look younger, feel better, have less pain, and are just overall healthier. So, how can you incorporate a little more of the great outdoors into your life?