Besides rising pollen counts and burgeoning rose blossoms everywhere, how can you tell it’s spring in the Pacific Northwest? There is a noticeable absence of hoodies and down vests; car racks are sporting kayaks, bikes, surf and paddle boards; parks are buzzing with Frisbees, soccer and softballs—humans are heading outside. And for good reason.
Turns out that even just being outside is good for human health—both in terms of the positive effects but also as a release from the potentially harmful side effects of remaining captive to the indoors, or being prisoner to the “psychopathology of everyday life,” as Professor J. Arthur Thomson put it in 1914. (Professor J. Arthur Thomson – “Vis Medicatrix Naturae,” Keynote Address at the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association, 1914.)
We intuitively know that when there is a break in the weather, it’s time to get a move on. Here’s why it’s more than just a good idea to go outside.
The Pros of Being Outside
- Sunshine: For optimal health, humans require regular amounts of vitamin D, known as “the sunshine vitamin.” Our bodies produce vitamin D with mild sun exposure—they say even 15 minutes of gentle exposure directly on the skin is beneficial. We can also consume it as a supplement or get it from food. Regardless of how you get it, vitamin D is essential for regulating calcium and phosphorus absorption, keeps teeth and bones healthy, and has been identified as an essential prophylactic against cancer, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. Hmmm, take a pill or go for a walk in the sun? Easy choice.
- Fresh air: If you spend a lot of time indoors, you may need more fresh air than you realize. Often the quality of the air we breathe in enclosed spaces is harmful to our health. It even has a name: sick building syndrome (SBS). SBS, defined in 1984 “to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified,” is a result of poor ventilation, outgassing of volatile compounds used in carpeting and construction, and the presence of moldsamong other toxic possibilities. One cure for SBS is to spend more time outdoors breathing in fresh air. Head to a park or greenway. Take your exercise to the nearest open space. What if you live in a city and the air is polluted? Depending of course on the amount and type of pollution, current word from some in the medical community suggests that the dangers of exercising in moderate pollution are less than not exercising and/or staying indoors. That said, monitor the levels of pollution in your area before dashing out for some heavy breathing.
- Let your eyes stretch out: Look out. Here comes another syndrome: “Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use.” The cure? Spend less time staring at a screen—cell, pad, computer or TV. Get outside and feel your eyes reach for the horizon. Might not be a bad idea to leave your cell behind—just for your training session, of course.
- Community: Between Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms, it’s possible to swim in the illusion that we belong to one or more “communities.” True, we may send and receive messages over the web to and from like-minded people and get our daily fix of “likes” from “friends.” But the satisfaction ends at the keyboard or touchscreen. Real community in the flesh delivers more than “likes” and links. Head outside in your hood—there is nothing like feeling connected to your space and physical community. Walk, run or bike through your neighborhood and commune with the good people and businesses that make up your community. Making real connections feels good.
Exercising outside is a great way to mix it up, keep it fun, reap health benefits, and add new dimensions to your sense of community. Take advantage of weather that supports being outside; you will feel your well-being quotient rise.
And Go Well!