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.
1. Provides Vitamin D
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.
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.
2. Boosts the Respiratory System
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.
Walking outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine benefits respiratory function significantly. The Lung Institute recommends walking outdoors regularly to improve your breathing.
3. Refreshes Neurological Functioning
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.
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. As far too many people today worry constantly, getting outdoors can keep the body from producing excess cortisol, which can lead to poor health.
4. Strengthens the Immune System
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.
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.
5. Relieves Stress
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.
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?
6. Improves Sleep Quality
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.
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. Those who exercise find falling asleep and staying asleep much easier.
Welcome Back the Benefits of Fresh Air and Sunshine!
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!