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Monday, July 12, 2010

Spending More Time Outdoors Benefits Health

The increased availability of in-home entertainment systems such as TV's, computers, sound systems, and video games along with perceived discomforts and even dangers of spending time outdoors has prompted Americans to spend more time indoors. The U.S. government has estimated that the average American spends 90% of his/her time indoors. But that may be deleterious to our health. A recent article in the Harvard Health Letter (July 2010) details the following benefits of spending more time outdoors:
  1. Your Vitamin D levels will go up - Sunlight hitting your skin begins the process of the body's manufacture of biologically active Vitamin D. Fifteen minutes of sun exposure on bare skin can result in the manufacture of far more Vitamin D than you can get in any supplement pill. An increasing number of studies have shown the association of high Vitamin D levels with various health benefits including protection against osteoporosis, cancer, depression, heart attack and stroke. The northern latitudes get less direct sun exposure than southern latitudes and some forms of cancer are more common in the northern vs. the southern states. As we age, our ability to manufacture Vitamin D from sun exposure drops considerably. People with darker skin also generate less Vitamin D from a given amount of sun exposure. While there is an ongoing controversy about whether sun exposure without sunscreen causes more benefit from Vitamin D production than danger from skin cancer, the Harvard Health Letter recommends some limited daily unprotected sun exposure along with protection against the sun when outdoors for long periods or during the middle of the day in summer.
  2. You will get more exercise - Physical exercise has been shown to have a very wide range of health benefits. People tend to be more sedentary when spending time indoors. When outdoors, people tend to spend more time in physically active pastimes such as walking, biking, gardening, and playing sports. Children are more active outdoors as well. A study using GPS units found that children were more than twice as active when outdoors than indoors.
  3. Your mood will improve - The kind of light you get outdoors tends to elevate mood, and light-therapy has been used to treat people who tend to become depressed during the long winter months. The increased physical activity associated with spending more time outdoors also has a mood-enhancing effect. Exercising in a natural setting has even more positive effect on mood and self-esteem, as a British study has shown.
  4. Your focus may improve - A study has shown that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder do better on a test of concentration after walking through a park than when walking through residential or downtown neighborhoods.
  5. You may heal faster - A University of Pittsburg study showed that surgical patients experienced less pain and stress and needed less medication when exposed to natural light. Even a window view of a natural setting seemed to promote recovery better than a view of buildings.
It's clear that the evidence in favor of spending more time outdoors is quite solid. So find an outdoor activity you enjoy and get out there.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when we would play outdoors for a good part of the day, and even at night.


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