Time Spent Outside

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Spending time outside is an essential part of a health promoting lifestyle. It provides mental and physical well-being. In today’s world the average individual spends very little time outside.

Contents

Importance

Article How Nature's Rhythms Affect of State of Health,Vital Link; 2009 Fall
Article Nature, NDNR; 2013 March

Time spent outside is beneficial because it:

  • Synchronizes Circadian Rhythm: As natural beings, we have a connection to nature. Nature feeds the soul and helps to balance the body when exposed to sunlight and natural living things. The body’s internal clock, the circadian rhythm, is balanced when exposed to natural sunlight. Natural sunlight stimulates the optic nerve which sends a signal to the hypothalamus. From the hypothalamus biochemical, physiological and behavioural processes are governed and balanced. Imbalance of the circadian cycle contributes to hormonal imbalances, seasonal affective disorder, impaired sleep, fatigue and jet lag, just to name a few. [1]
  • Grounding: spending time with both feet on the earth, grounds the body and gets rid of the excess electrical activity, allowing it to ground itself both physically and mentally.
  • Energy: Individuals who spent time outdoors reported feeling more alive and full of energy.[2]. Exposure to oxygenated air, trees and nature instantly increases energy levels and decreases feeling of exhaustion. Instead of reaching for a cup of coffee when energy is low, try spending a few minutes outside in nature to combat feelings of fatigue.
  • Sleep Years ago, individuals used to rise with the sun and go to bed at sunset. This was very beneficial to overall health as the body balances itself by light stimulation. Light cues are essential for proper circadian rhythms and sleep.
  • Mental/Emotional or Psychological Conditions: Individuals who spend time outdoors report an increased sense of well-being, improved self-esteem and decreased feeling of depression. Exposure to sunlight while outdoors increases Vitamin D synthesis. A deficiency of Vitamin D has been associated with increased feelings of depression.[3] Sunlight is also beneficial for decreasing the severity and incidence of seasonal affective disorder. Spending 20 minutes a day may be the prescription needed to help combat feelings of low mood.
  • Vitamin Synthesis In order for the body to produce Vitamin D naturally, one needs so to be exposed to sunlight. Exposure to Ultra Violet B radiation allows the body to synthesize Vitamin D. To maximize Vitamin D synthesis it is important to spend time outdoors with skin exposed to sunlight without sunscreen. That being said, it is also important to avoid a sunburn. If the skin is too sensitive to spend any time outdoors without sun protection, talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about Vitamin D supplementation.
  • Vitamin D is essential for optimal immune function. Several cells of the immune system have Vitamin D receptors (VDR) which requires vitamin D to bind to it in order to be activated and function optimally. T-cells, macrophages and dendritic cells all have VDR on their cell surface pointing to the important role of vitamin D in immune function. Vitamin D has also been shown to increase innate immunity and prevent the development of auto-immune conditions.[4]
  • Eye Sight One of the only times the eyes are given the chance to see distances is outdoors. Outdoor activity is protective against the development of myopia (the inability to see distances).[5] Children who spend time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia later in life. Outdoor activity is also beneficial for balancing eye sight. The eyes balance themselves based on the colors green and blue, which corresponds with the color of the sky and ground.
  • Increased Immune Function Spending time outdoors has a beneficial effect on immune function. Some of the reason why include:
    • Phytoncides Plants emit phytoncides a natural airborne substance that prevents them from rotting and provides protection against insects and animals. Phytoncides are also beneficial for human immune function. Spending time in nature, exposed to phytoncides increases the number of natural killer cells, and anti-cancer proteins in white blood cells.[6] Natural killer cells are powerful immune cells which protect the body from viruses and tumour formation. Phytoncides also decrease stress hormones in the blood which favourably affects immune function.[7]

Influences

There are many factors that prevent someone from spending time outdoors. Here are is list of some of the most common reasons.

  • Age Young children are encouraged to spend time outside and to find activities that encourage outdoor play. As one ages and enters the working world, the amount of time spent outside diminishes substantially. Spending all day in an office, followed by a commute home can decrease the amount of time left in a day for outdoor activities. In order to incorporate time outdoors into your daily schedule consider taking two 10 minute breaks throughout the working day to spend time outside.
  • Health Status
    • If mobility is restricted the ability to get outside or spend time outdoors may be a challenge.
    • Seasonal allergies impact the ability to enjoy time outdoors.
  • Neighbourhood with increased greenness are associated with more time spent outdoors.[8] Greenness in a neighbourhood is also associated with a decrease in body mass index.
  • Excuses There are a myriad of excuses that one can make up to not spend time outdoors. Here are some of the most common:
    • Not enough time daily
    • Seasons
    • Environment

Impact

Lack of time outdoors can contribute to various health conditions. Below is a list of common conditions associated with lack of time outside.

Treatments

Spending 20 minutes a day outdoors is essential to health and well-being. One can incorporate their time outdoors with exercise if finding it difficult to get a full 20 minutes of fresh air. It is also possible to break up the 20 minutes into smaller amounts, as long as 20 minutes are accumulated throughout the day. Spending more time outdoors requires taking time for yourself and honouring your health. Spending time outdoors should be viewed as equally as important as daily exercise or water intake. Try to incorporate outdoor activities into your daily routines (i.e. walk to get groceries, eat lunch in the park, take children to the park instead of playing indoors etc.).

References

  1. Quraishi S (2000) Circadian Rhythms and Sleep. Retrieved Sept 25, 2010, from serendip: Circadian Rhythms and Sleep.
  2. Weinstein BJ (Jun 2010) Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive, Study Shows. Retrieved September 26th, 2010, from University of Rochester: http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=3639
  3. Holick, M (2007) Vitamin D Deficiency New England Journal of Medicine;35:266-281.
  4. Higdon J P (Mar 2004) Vitamin D. Retrieved September 22, 2010, from Linus Pauling Institue, Oregon State University: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminD/
  5. Dirani MTL (2009) Outdoor activity and myopia in Singapore teenage children. Br J Ophthalmol;93(8):997-1000.
  6. Li Q (2010) A day trip to a forest park increases human natural killer activity and the expression of anti-cancer proteins in male subjects. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents;24(2):157-65.
  7. Li Q (2008) Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol;21(1):117-127.
  8. Bell JF (2008) Neighborhood greenness and 2-year changes in body mass index of children and youth. Am J Prev Med;604-605
  9. Holick M (2004) Vitamin D: importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. American Society for Clinical Nutrition;362-371.
  10. Wen LM (2009) Time spent playing outdoors after school and its relationship with independent mobility: a cross-sectional survey of children aged 10-12 years in Sydney, Australia. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act;6-15.
  11. Cleland V (2008) A prospective examination of children's time spent outdoors, objectively measured physical activity and overweight. Int J Obes (Lond);1685-93.
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