Outside is Good Medicine
Nature cues our brain to shift from a depleting to a restoring state. According to recent scientific evidence, exposure to natural environments reduces the stress response, improves our health and elevates our mood at any age. It just makes sense. The majority of us live in urban areas and spend the vast majority of our time, nearly 90% of the time, indoors! And, indoor air quality may not be the best for our health. More green space has been associated with many beneficial health effects, including reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality and improved cognitive functioning and mental health. (2) Longevity is greater among senior citizens living in walkable green spaces, and children that spend more time in nature have less behavioral issues. (1) There are physiological benefits to spending time in nature such as lowering blood pressure, bolstering the immune system and reducing inflammation. More time spent in nature may even have anti-aging effects on our chromosomes. (3) Even a small green space is beneficial. Flowers and plants in a workplace have been shown to increase cognitive functioning, creativity and problem-solving.
Additionally, 90% of the vitamin D in our bodies is made in our skin from exposure to ultraviolet sunlight. Vitamin D is difficult for most of us to obtain from food alone. Therefore, direct sunlight (as well as using vitamin D3 supplementation) is often necessary to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Due to our lack of outdoor activity and frequent use of sunblock, vitamin D deficiency is a very common contributing risk factor to a multitude of health-related issues including cancer, infections, muscle and bone pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and depression. (4) The benefits of having adequate vitamin D levels include reducing all-cause mortality, fracture risk and increasing muscle strength.
Therefore, in addition to supplementing with 1000-2000IU of vitamin D3 daily, get outside for 15-20 minutes daily of sun with 40% of your skin exposed. (5) Eat foods containing vitamin D such as wild-caught fatty fish, cod liver oil and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. Pay attention to indoor air quality in your home or workplace by assuring adequate ventilation and fix any leaks or damp conditions. Plan to take nature walks, visit gardens and get out to our parks. Instead of exercising indoors, try exercising outdoors for even more health benefits. When you can’t get outdoors, bring nature indoors by making small green spaces in your home and workplace.
Taking more time to connect with nature will not only boost your mood and reduce stress, it has far reaching health, cognitive and anti-aging benefits.
The natural world is wondrous and restorative, and important basic psychological needs are met through contact with nature. The connection that we feel while immersed in nature dissolves our sense of separateness which is the root of much suffering.
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their own energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.” -John Muir, 1901
1. McEachan RRC, Yang TC, Roberts H, et al. Availability, use of, and satisfaction with green space, and children's mental wellbeing at age 4 years in a multicultural, deprived, urban area: results from the Born in Bradford cohort study. Lancet Planet Health. 2018;2(6):e244-e254.
2. Nieuwenhuijsen M, Khreis H. Green space is important for health. Lancet. 2017;389(10070):700.
3. Woo J, Tang N, Suen E, Leung J, Wong M. Green space, psychological restoration, and telomere length. Lancet. 2009;373(9660):299-300.
4. Bosomworth NJ. Mitigating epidemic vitamin D deficiency: the agony of evidence. Can Fam Physician. 2011;57(1):16-20, e11-16.
5. Bordelon P, Ghetu MV, Langan RC. Recognition and management of vitamin D deficiency. Am Fam Physician. 2009;80(8):841-846.