Americans now spend an alarming 93 percent of their time indoors, despite the benefits of getting outside.
We have become an indoor species, which is having consequences on our physical and mental health.
Staying inside is detrimental on its own, especially since indoor air can be 5 times more polluted than outdoor air. We’re also often sedentary and tethered to a digital device while inside.
But the bigger issue is we’re not reaping the powerful benefits of the great outdoors.
Spending time in nature helps protect against a wide range of diseases, including depression, diabetes, obesity, ADHD, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Getting outside has also been shown to make us happier and less anxious.
Although controversial, one of the biggest benefits of getting outside is the sun. In excess, UV rays cause sunburn and skin cancer, but small doses provide beneficial vitamin D — which could help explain why sunbathers actually live longer.
Healthy levels of vitamin D are essential for overall health, with profound benefits for the cardiovascular system, cognitive functioning, and for reducing inflammation.
The sun also has benefits beyond vitamin D. For example, the sun’s rays help create nitric oxide, which is beneficial to the cardiovascular system by increasing blood flow and decreasing blood pressure. Getting sunlight during the day also helps to regulate our circadian rhythm and leads to better sleep at night. A little bit of sun goes a long way, but for prolonged exposure it’s best to apply a mineral-based sunscreen to prevent sun damage.
Getting outside also helps to beat back the constant stress in our lives. Stress runs rampant in Japan, where they’ve turned to forest bathing — which simply means getting outside in nature — to restore a sense of peace and calm. Being outside in nature has been shown to alleviate obsessive thought patterns and decrease rumination. In fact, even just smelling the trees and plants outside might help boost immune function and protect your brain. Nature really does clear your mind.
By now, hopefully you are convinced to build some outdoor time into your daily routine. It doesn’t take much — just 20 minutes in nature has been proven to reduce stress. But the more time you can spend outside the better.
It could be going outdoors for a daily walk — an activity that could cut the risk of developing dementia by 40%. Or go for a hike or bike ride. Or just read a book under a tree for a while. It doesn’t matter what you do, just get out there.
Getting outside appears to be on the rise in our current work-from-home culture, and that is one bright spot amidst this pandemic that will hopefully last longer-term.
After all, life wasn’t meant to be spent indoors. Get outside and soak up the benefits for your body and mind.
I write about healthy living. Subscribe to my email list at andrewmerle.com.