As temperatures drop, we all hunker down and try to stay warm and cozy indoors. In fact, most Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors. Some have called it the human zoo syndrome. Some call it an epidemic of inactivity. Regardless, very few still heed their mothers sound advice, “Go outside; it’s good for you.” There are some excellent reasons for spending time outdoors, even in the winter, even if you are older, even if…, well, you get the picture.
The first reason for going outdoors is increased activity. This may be due solely to the fact that there are no couches outside, but regardless of the reason, you become more active. There really is a whole world to explore. “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh. There are tons of activities to do outside. There is work disguised as fun, such as gardening, shoveling or building. There are tons of outdoor exercise opportunities and most sports have options for exercising in the winter. (Yes, this does mean you can start your exercise program in December, instead of waiting for January 1.) Then there are actual activities that should only be performed outside, such as sledding or hiking.
The health benefits of being outdoors are huge. Spending time outdoors provides Vitamin D; this is a FREE vitamin and you do not even have to provide your e-mail address. Being outdoors helps reset circadian rhythms and increases metabolism. It exercises your eyes, rather than having them focus on a fixed point. Your pupils dilate and contract as they focus on different objects. It prevents SAD (Seasonal Affectedness Disorder), and exercising outdoors scores extra points for mood improvement. Lots of research touts outdoor activities as beneficial in increasing concentration and especially with ADHD. This does leave one forced to wonder if some hyperactivity is a fall-out symptom of too much inactivity. Still, they found that memory spans increased by 20% by spending 1 hour a day outside. Plants and trees detoxify the air by absorbing many substances that can be harmful to humans, and create oxygen, which we need to live and to function. This can detoxify our lungs as we breathe in the fresh air. Stress relief, which is measured through muscle tension, blood pressure, and electrical brain activity can be improved within minutes of exposure to an outside environment. The exposure to natural light has even been shown to decrease pain in ill patients.
Exercising outdoors gives all the benefits of the actual outdoors, with some added benefits not found in a gym. The benefits of walking on an uneven terrain actually increase foot, ankle and knee strength. Activities such as walking and cycling have positive effect on health, especially people with special health concerns, such as elderly individuals. Thirty-five percent of adults in America are overweight. Twenty percent of 4 year olds are overweight. All of us could benefit from taking advantage of the increased metabolism that occurs from being outside.
There is even social value in being outdoors. By visiting a park, climbing a mountain, or riding a bike you can interact with people that would have never been possible. You can learn so much about someone from one hour of playing outside. “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.” – Anne Frank
Realistically, deep down, we all know being outdoors has benefits. We know exercising outdoors is good for us. Our biggest problem is making it happen. If we make provision for spending time outdoors, we are more likely to comply. It may look like meeting a friend for a walk, or having an accountability partner, or telling the kids that they are coming with you on your bike ride a day before you actually go. It also means planning ahead, such as knowing where your sneakers are or making sure your bike tires are blown up or where your gloves are. Being outside should not be reserved for special occasions. Translation: A yearly hike and picnic are not sufficient. Also, find something you enjoy. You will be much more likely to stick with an activity that bring you joy. Find one!