When John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles penned Good Day Sunshine, they summarized the health benefits of spending time outdoors. “I need to laugh, and when the sun is out, I’ve got something I can laugh about. I feel good, in a special way, I’m in love, and it’s a sunny day.”
Being in nature can increase your happiness and improve your health. The spring equinox on March 20 ushers in warmer temperatures and longer days, and as a result, there will be more time to enjoy being outside. Learn how opening the door and stepping outside can bring improvements to both your body and mind.
Lighten your mood
Research from the EPA shows that Americans are inside 90 percent of the day. You can miss out on the natural therapeutic qualities of sunlight when you don’t go outdoors, and taking in even a little sunshine can increase your brain’s release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, also known as the “happiness hormone.” Serotonin can ward off depression and help you feel calmer, more focused, and less anxious.
Getting fresh air can also help you feel better because it contains more oxygen and trees remove harmful pollutants from the air. Indoors, the concentration of pollutants can be two to three times higher, according to the EPA.
Forest bathing, the act of taking a leisurely stroll to absorb the healthy qualities of forests, is a popular practice in Japan. Forest air has especially high concentrations of oxygen and tree volatile essential oils, also known as phytoncides. These airborne substances are known to reduce inflammation, improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, boost immunity, and enhance sleep.
Soak in the sun
Getting some sun outdoors can also be good for you because when your skin is exposed to the sun’s rays, it starts your body’s production of vitamin D, or the “sunshine vitamin,” which is hard for many people to get from food alone. Research has linked low levels of vitamin D to an increased risk of certain cancers, depression, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, and chronic pain.
As previously mentioned, your brain releases serotonin when you are exposed to sunlight. You need this hormone for your body to create another substance, melatonin, which helps you fall and stay asleep. Melatonin plays a role in your circadian rhythms—your body’s natural sleep-wake cycles. The brighter the sunlight you are exposed to during the day, the more melatonin your body will make to improve your sleep at night. If you lack melatonin, your circadian rhythms can be disrupted, resulting in insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and, possibly, weight gain.
Improve your immune system
If you spend more time outdoors and avoid crowded places like movie theaters or shopping malls, you might be able to reduce your exposure to harmful viruses like the cold and the flu, which are spread by tiny, airborne droplets. You are less likely to be exposed to these outdoors because fresh air is always moving and can more easily disperse them. The vitamin D your body makes from sunlight exposure can help fight off infections too.
Prolong your life
Outdoor activities, such as hiking, gardening, or playing sports, and having an overall active lifestyle can prolong your life. Experts recommend participating in at least two and a half hours a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, running, bicycling, or active chores like mowing the lawn to maintain good health.
Try these ideas for taking in nature, soaking up sunlight, and breathing some fresh air this spring.
- Have a picnic with friends and family at a local park on a sunny day.
- Kick around a soccer ball or play bocce in the backyard.
- Take your kids to a playground.
- Try a new hiking trail nearby or plan to visit one out of state.
- Weed your garden beds and plant hardy annuals like pansies.
- Explore your neighborhood on foot and appreciate the first signs of spring.
- Spend some time with your pup. Play a game of fetch in the yard, or let your dog enjoy the sights and smells of spring during a long walk.