In Honor of Earth Day: Health Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors
This Earth Day, embrace nature, and your health, at the same time! While many of us consider spending time outdoors as a fun and relaxing pastime, studies support that it is actually essential to our well-being and should be a priority for everyone. Vishal Phakey, DO, Family Medicine physician of Voorhees Primary & Specialty Care, shares both the physical and psychological health benefits of being outside.
When we make the time to go for a walk or run, take care of the yard, play with the kids, or simply take in the fresh air and scenery, we are increasing two primary actions that introduce a wide range of health benefits: our physical activity and vitamin D absorption.
“Exercise, whether it is light or intense, can help you lose weight and lower your BMI, your blood pressure, and risk for type II diabetes, along with many other chronic diseases,” explained Dr. Phakey. “In addition, it improves your overall cardiovascular and respiratory health.”
If you’re not physically active every time you go outside, it’s okay. Vitamin D absorption alone plays a huge role in health management.
“One out of every four patients that I see is vitamin D deficient, which commonly causes fatigue, muscle pain, and brittle bones, with age,” said Dr. Phakey. “Going outside and increasing vitamin D levels also aids in our cardiovascular and respiratory health, as well as strengthens our immune system, nervous system, and bone density.”
“Just don’t soak up too much sun,” continued Dr. Phakey. “You shouldn’t be in direct sunlight for more than 20 minutes without protection. However, I do recommend that everyone spend at least 20 minutes outside daily (weather permitting) – adults and children alike.”
If you’re having trouble finding the time to spare, due to stress, or are suffering from seasonal depression and rather stay inside, know that being outside has been proven to significantly decrease stress levels and help with anxiety and depression. This may lead to less reliance on medication.
“Studies show that spending time outdoors decreases our cortisol levels,” said Dr. Phakey. “Cortisol, which is commonly known as the stress hormone, can be managed through exercise, meditation (or relaxation), and sleep. In addition, colors are emotionally stimulating; the color green is calming.”
“Because less stress from being active outdoors helps you sleep better at night, this will also work toward keeping cortisol levels down,” continued Dr. Phakey. “You’ll see many health benefits just from getting a healthier sleep, including improved memory as a result of a deeper REM cycle, and muscle restoration.”
As you or your children decide to go outside more as the weather gets warmer, don’t do it alone. Not only is adult supervision important, but so is setting a good example.
“I encourage families to take walks together,” said Dr. Phakey. “It’s a great way to talk about the day, catch up on each other’s lives, increase our cardiovascular activity, improve our health, and enjoy nature all at the same time.”
Are you ready embrace the great outdoors? Before heading out, remember to take the necessary precautions, such as proper outerwear, sun protection, and, if you suffer from asthma or allergies, don’t forget your inhaler and medication!