Well, it’s officially spring! Besides the long stretch of fresh vegetables and fruits at our disposal for healthy eating through spring and into summer, with the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer there’s a lot more time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you’re working out, or leisurely hanging out outdoors, the simple act of being outdoors can do absolute wonders for your wellness. Here are three of the many benefits of regularly getting outdoors.
Improves Mood and Fights Depression
Ever heard of the “runner’s high?” That’s the amazing feeling of euphoria that generally comes with a good run, especially a good outdoor run. Believe it or not, you can achieve a similar ‘high’ by simply being active outdoors, even if you don’t run. Outdoor activity inherently heightens the body’s production and release of endorphins. Endorphins are essentially the brain’s ‘happy’ or ‘feel good’ hormones.
Low endorphin levels have been linked to depression and other mood disorders. Interestingly, studies show that as little as five minutes of outdoor activity can increase endorphins in ways that improve mood and even self-esteem. But why stop at five? To keep your endorphin levels in full swing, dedicate at least 20-30 minutes a day to some outdoor activity, whether a leisure walk, hike or bike ride.
Naturally Raises Vitamin D Levels
Regularly getting outdoors supplies the body with a whole lot of vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that’s critical for keeping the bones and teeth healthy and strong. Its synthesis is triggered when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from direct sunlight. For a good dose of vitamin D, be sure to get outdoors (without sunscreen) for at least 10-30 minutes, 2-3 days a week with your face, back, legs, arms and/or hands exposed.
For maximum benefits, try getting out when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. This typically occurs between the hours of 10am and 3pm. Walking, jogging, biking or engaging in other activities while outdoors, really amplifies the effects of vitamin D. The combined effects ultimately help lower the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory infections and inflammatory disorders.
Boosts Immunity and Expedites Healing
Numerous studies have shown that you can boost your immunity and even hasten recovery time from illness or injury by regularly going for long walks, jogs or hikes in the great outdoors, especially amidst forest environments like scenic trails, state parks and forest preserves. In fact, the Japanese have a concept called “Shinrin-yoku” that translates to “forest bathing.” It’s an interesting method of immersing yourself in a forest environment for better health.
Trees and plants within natural forest environments emit specialized health-promoting compounds called phytonicides. Remarkably, the simple act of breathing in phytonicides reduces production of the potent stress hormone cortisol. The less cortisol produced, the lower the risk of common chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
As an avid outdoor runner and lover of bicycling, hiking and kayaking, I can personally attest to both the mental and physical benefits of outdoor activity – and it doesn’t even take all that much. Some leisure walking on a trail, a little playground time with the kiddos or a few friendly games of tennis are just a few easy ways to be out. Or just find yourself a quiet spot in the forest to occasionally mediate. Your options for getting outdoors are practically endless!