So what’s the best way to work off all that cornbread and brunch I’ve been recommending? Simple. Just do what you did as a kid–go outside. Heading to the nearest mountain or forest trail is a beautiful, family-friendly antidote to weekend or seasonal excesses. It’s such an obvious solution that we often overlook it.
It’s easy to see why we do, though. Modern life has been engineered to keep us indoors. We hop into our cars in the morning, opening the garage door with a remote. Then, we drive to work and find the closest possible parking space to our workplace. We rush inside and spend the balance of the gorgeous daylight hours of our life in a concrete building. Then we run back into our cars and head back home. Most days, we spend less than 5 minutes in the sun. Is it any wonder we’re so afflicted and enraged?
Our brains and bodies long for the outdoors. Here are five reasons we should get outside this weekend:
- IT IMPROVES OUR MOOD Let’s start with the obvious. Nature smells good. Nature sounds good. Those pleasant smells and sounds have an immediate and profound impact on our mood. Trees and plants, it seems, emit compounds that slow down breathing and reduce anxiety. There are studies that assert that we find bird songs to be reassuring and comforting. But did we really need a study to tell us that? A Stanford study showed that students who walked outside for an hour were less anxious and performed better on tests. And a New York Times article noted that walking outside positively changes our brains. City dwellers have a higher risk of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
- IT’S NECESSARY FOR OUR HEALTH One reason is that it promotes the production of vitamin D. We need vitamin D for cell growth, bone growth, inflammation reduction and immune function. It’s very difficult to get enough through food, since so few foods naturally promote its production (vitamin D is actually a hormone rather than a vitamin). The best way to get it is though direct exposure to sunlight.
- IT PROTECTS US FROM AIR POLLUTION! That’s right–indoor air pollution is worse than outdoor! Who knew? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution may be two to five times greater than outdoors. That’s because, when inside, you’re exposed to pollutants like carbon monoxide, particulate matter from fireplaces and cooking appliances, formaldehyde and flame retardants, as well as mold, dirt, dust and pet dander in an enclosed environment.
- IT PROMOTES BETTER SLEEP Natural light helps us regulate our circadian rhythms, which, in turn, affects our ability to get a good night’s sleep. A study out of the Saint Louis University School of Medicine noted that people need 30-60 minutes of exposure to natural light for their sleep patterns to improve.
- IT PROMOTES BETTER EXERCISE There are benefits to training outdoors that can’t be replicated indoors. You face changes in terrain and wind resistance that you just don’t face indoors. Plus, you enjoy it more. A study of older adults concluded that those who exercise outside do so longer and more often. And another study that compared people who exercised indoors with those who did so outdoors found that the outdoor trainers enjoyed the exercise more and, on later tests, reflected more enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem.
So, at least once a week, try to get outside for a walk or jog. It doesn’t have to be too strenuous, and you don’t have to set any world records. Just enjoy God’s bounty and breathe.
What’s your favorite outdoor trail?
As a footnote, I’d like to apologize to both my readers. I said that I’d be posting my weekly workouts, but I’ve since decided against it for now. The reasons:
- I still haven’t shed my full-time gig, and I feel that my limited time is best spent developing the blog in other ways.
- Both of you will possibly be better served by telling you why I feel that my workouts are enjoyable and effective. That’s the purpose of this post.
I dearly love both of you!! Thanks for reading.