Winter is almost behind us, and weather forecast is looking more positive by the day. Sure we’ve all heard that a bit of fresh air is good for us, but why exactly should we be getting ourselves outside…?
The circadian rhythm is our internal clock, that organises the timings of certain tasks (such a hormone production, digestion, muscle repair and toxin removal) to optimise our function. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles don’t always co-operate with our circadian clocks. We spend so much time indoors that we often don’t receive the natural light we need to tell our bodies that it’s daytime… resulting in us staying up later, blue-light omitting devices to hand…you know the drill! This delays the production of melatonin (the ‘sleepy hormone’) leaving us wide awake at bed time, and the cycle continues. The solution? Get outside during daylight hours. Spending just half an hour outside (and if you have the choice, morning time is best) is a great way to help regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and boost our mood for the rest of the day.
Vitamin D For The Win
We are all hopefully well aware of the benefits of Vitamin D – from keeping our bones healthy, to fighting depression and disease – the sun is our number source of this vital vitamin. According to NHS.uk, from around late March onwards, most of us should be able to get all the Vitamin D we need from good old sunlight. Happy days! So provided you’re getting enough, you can shelve the Vit-D supplement for the summer, and get your daily dose just by being outdoors.
And, as if the every-day benefits of this important Vitamin isn’t enough, Vitamin D deficiency is an even greater concern following a recent study, where researchers looked at 216 COVID-19 patients in a hospital in Spain, and found that 82.2% of all the patients were deficient in Vitamin D. The study also showed that people with the deficiency also had longer hospital stays for COVID-19, as well as a higher prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. So… what better time than now to keep our supply topped up.
The Outdoors and Mental Health
Time spent outdoors has been linked to lower levels of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’), so it really is true that being outside can physically reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Sunshine also naturally increases the serotonin in our bodies, which can have a huge impact on our mood.
In fact, according to a study, people who use the natural environment for physical activity at least once per week have about half the risk of poor mental health compared with those who do not exercise outside, and each extra weekly use of the natural environment for physical activity reduces the risk of poor mental health by a further 6%.
Mind.org.uk suggests that being outside in natural light can also be helpful if you experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people during particular seasons or times of year. Having just emerged from the darkest (and coldest!) months of the year, not to mention how especially isolating this winter has been for many of us through the pandemic, now is the time to seize the opportunity to embrace the warming weather, notice nature as it buds and blooms into spring, giving us a renewed sense of hope.
Seize the Day(time)
So – we really ought to grab the opportunity whilst it’s bright and dry to take to the outdoors. Perhaps you could bring your workout to the garden, or take a walk during your lunch hour. Or, if your day is too busy to factor in a break outside, get your fresh-air time in early; consider sitting outside with your coffee and breakfast, even if it’s just for 10 minutes! Even just a short burst will help wake up your mind and body and set you off to a positive, clear-headed start for the day.
Author: Adele Wayt
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Sources: NHS.uk, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2020, ‘The Importance of Greenspace for Mental Health (BJPsych Int. 2017, National Centre for Biotechnology Information), Mind.org.uk.