The Great Outdoors: Why time outside is important for PWDs

The Great Outdoors: Why time outside is important for PWDs

A lot of us enjoy spending more time indoors. There’s four walls, security, and air conditioning! But there are real benefits of spending time outside in nature, too.

Research has shown that outdoor time results in

  • decreased risk of diabetes
  • decreased risk of death from heart attacks
  • lower blood pressure
  • a lower heart rate
  • better immune system function

Here are more benefits of spending time outdoors:

It relieves stress

Being surrounded by nature calms your nerves instead of stimulating them. Just 20-30 minutes outside reduces stress and decreases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Walking outside for 90 minutes calms down the part of the brain that is linked to negative rumination, helping you let go of negative thoughts and not dwell on them or become anxious.

It helps to rest the eyes

Screen time can result in staring at a fixed point without blinking for a long time, which can result in dry eyes and other problems. Giving your eyes a nature break greatly reduces your risk of nearsightedness or myopia. Focusing on various objects outdoors, both near and far, keeps your eyes flexible and working well. 

It improves your mood

Exercise outside has been shown to fight depression, or mitigate the symptoms of depression. Exposure to natural light encourages higher self esteem and a better mood. A study has shown that men and women who spent just 20 minutes in a park-like area felt 64% more satisfied with their lives.

Boosts vitamin D production

Vitamin D is crucial to health in multiple ways:

  • it helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, for strong and healthy bones. 
  • it helps maintain organ health.
  • it preserves brain function
  • it helps muscles contract

Low vitamin D levels have been linked to

  • osteoporosis
  • cancer
  • depression
  • muscle weakness

Not many foods naturally contain vitamin D. However, your body can make vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun. Noon or shortly before noon is the best time to get vitamin D. This is the time the sun is at its highest. Your body might also manufacture vitamin D more efficiently during that time. Some scientists recommend exposing about a third of your skin to the sun for 10-30 minutes three times a week. If you have darker skin, you might need a little more time to ensure you’ve had enough sun exposure. 

It relieves pain

Nature can be a calming, soothing influence. When exposed to green spaces, patients who have gone through surgery recover more quickly and don’t need as much pain relief.

How to get enough sun and fresh air

There are a few ways you can incorporate more time outdoors into your daily life:

  • Exercise outdoors – walk in a neighbourhood park or garden, go swimming, or do your normal exercises somewhere where you can see greenery.
  • Eat outdoors – have a meal outdoors so you can enjoy the fresh air. (This is also one way to get your sun and vitamin D time)
  • Study the nature around you  observe the petals of flowers, the veins on leaves, the way grass grows, even the way trees sway in the wind. 

Sun protection

Time outdoors can be fun, but UV from sunlight can also give you sunburn and increase your risk of skin cancer. Protect yourself from the sun by

  • wearing a hat and sunglasses outside
  • wearing long-sleeved clothing if you’re spending a long time outside
  • applying broad spectrum sunscreen that’s SPF15 or higher after 10-30 minutes of sun exposure. Reapply the sunscreen after you’ve been sweating or swimming.

Bringing the outdoors inside

If you can’t get outside, there are ways to bring nature indoors:

  • decorate with potted or artificial plants
  • opt for white or yellow walls that can reflect light
  • paint walls in blue, green or earth tones for a calming effect.
  • keep your windows open for sunlight and wind. Consider installing screens over your windows if there are many mosquitoes or flying insects in your area.
  • Use plant or animal-based motifs in your furniture such as leaves, flowers, animal stripes and more.
  • hang up photos or art of nature
  • play nature sounds – you can find a playlist you enjoy on Youtube or even Spotify

Conclusion

While it can be safer indoors, time outdoors can have multiple health benefits. Maintain a connection with nature for your physical and mental health, and appreciate the green world we all live in.

Resources

Alex H. (2018) The Mental Health Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: http://challengethestorm.org/the-mental-health-benefits-of-spending-time-outdoors/

American Heart Association (2018) Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/spend-time-in-nature-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety

BrainMD (2017) 9 Vital Functions of Vitamin D [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://brainmd.com/blog/9-vital-functions-vitamin-d/

Cassidy R. (2020) Why Going Outside Is Good For Your Health, Especially Right Now [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cassidyrandall/2020/04/09/why-going-outside-is-good-for-your-health-especially-right-now/?sh=35d324802de9

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) Are There Benefits to Spending Time Outdoors? [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/outdoors.htm

Jeanette L. (2016) 20 Ways to Incorporate Nature Into Your Home [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.thethings.com/20-ways-to-incorporate-nature-into-your-home/

Joni S. (2018) 7 Ways To Get Nature Therapy, Even If You Live In The City [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonisweet/2018/08/31/7-ways-to-get-nature-therapy-even-if-you-live-in-the-city/

Julie S. (2019) 13 Remarkable Health Benefits of Getting Outdoors [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.tripoutside.com/health-benefits-of-getting-outdoors/

Phil G. (2016) How To Incorporate Natural Elements Into Your Home [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-to-incorporate-natural-elements-into-your-home_b_578e690ae4b06fcf086d3233

Ryan R., MS, RD (2018) How to Safely Get Vitamin D From Sunlight [Accessed: 8 Mar 2021] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-from-sun#bottom-line