Nature & Your Body: How the Great Outdoors Impacts Your Health
In general, we spend far too much time indoors and far too little time outside. We have built concrete jungles where many of us spend the majority of our time inside. Most of this time is spent being physically inactive.
This inactivity, lack of fresh air, and absence of sun exposure can have harmful effects on your health and your body. Sunshine and fresh air not only provide a fresh perspective but drive many important physiological processes.
Spending active time in nature has proven health benefits. Our ancestors knew this, and science continues to solidify it. It is no wonder that natural elements such as the earth, water, air, and sun have played key roles in cultures and religions across the globe and throughout history.
These elements significantly influence our physical functioning and contribute to our overall happiness.
How Does Nature Impact Your Health and Your Body?
Nature is the best kind of drug. In a way, it works miracles with little to no side effects and does not require a prescription. You simply step outside. Many cities are incorporating more and more natural green spaces and parks so that often, you don’t have to wander too far to connect with the beauty of our natural environment.
We are part of nature. As much as we have removed ourselves and as many trees as we have torn down, we are slowly starting to realize that we need the greenery. We need sunlight. We need the connection.
The Sun and Your Internal Clock
The brain drives our daily rhythms. It regulates hunger, mood, heart function, and immunity. Arguably the most important internal rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle.
Sleep is still somewhat a mystery. However, its importance has not gone unnoticed. Sleep is vital for repairing and restoring body tissues, maintaining a healthy weight and a happy heart, for optimal cognitive functioning such as memory and concentration, and is associated with living longer.
The sleep hormone, melatonin, is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Ever notice how less light tends to make you sleepy? Darkness triggers the production of melatonin. Thus, it prepares the body for sleep. Light decreases melatonin production, which signals to the body to wake up.
This is why many sleep experts recommend limiting screen time and bright lights right before bed.
The sun plays a huge role in waking us up. Getting in an hour or so of sun exposure first thing in the morning can set your day up for success. It cuts melatonin production, allowing your body to wake up more naturally and make you more alert.
If you drag your feet in the mornings and struggle to make it to the lunch hour, try spending an hour outdoors first thing. Go for a walk or run. Drink your coffee outside in the morning. Try to adjust your sleep schedule to sleep and rise with the sun. Your health matters and sleep is a key ingredient to good physical and mental well-being.
The Sunshine Vitamin
Most doctors recommend taking Vitamin D throughout the winter months. Why? We lose sunlight during this time of year. The sun is necessary for the internal production of Vitamin D. The sun converts a chemical found in the skin to Vitamin D3, which is then transported to the liver and kidneys. Here it is transformed into the active form of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and is essential for proper bone growth and development. Without it, soft bones or bone deformation may form or develop.
Unfortunately, sun exposure does have its downsides. Prolonged sun exposure can damage our skin. While spending time outside and basking in the sunshine is a good thing for our health, don’t skip out on the sunscreen. Skin cancer is serious and can spread to other parts of the body. Take the right precautions.
Spending Time Outside and Your Immune System
Get outside to give your immune system a much-needed boost. Substances from plants and the sunshine vitamin influence our immune system and help protect us from illness or disease.
A study published in the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents explored the link between spending time in nature and immunity. Male participants in the study walked for 2 hours in the mornings and afternoons in a forest park.
Researchers concluded that phytoncide exposure from plants positively impacted the participants’ immune function. They saw an increase in white blood cells protecting the body from foreign invaders. Phytoncides are an airborne substance that comes from plants and protect them from harm, such as from insects and animals.
Through their study, researchers found this substance to benefit humans as well and offer similar immunity.
Vitamin D also plays a role in immune function. Recently, vitamin D has been associated with boosting immunity through its role in turning on certain processes and cell productions. Put your health first. Get outside to combat disease and avoid illness.
Green Exercise is Better for You and Your Lungs
Exercise, alone, has numerous benefits. Exercising outside is even better. You’ll burn more calories, breathe in cleaner air, and feel more energized. The air you breathe outside is cleaner than indoors. Through photosynthesis, trees remove pollution from the air. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
Air pollution can wreak havoc on the body. Respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular problems are common in high pollution areas. Trees fix this problem for us. Take your exercise routine outdoors. Go for a run or bike ride through trials. Explore the parks and green space close to you.
There are various ways nature shapes our health and our lives. The sun plays a key role in our wake-sleep cycles and Vitamin D production. Outdoor physical activity boosts our immune system. The trees filter the air we need to breathe.
Bonus: These physical health benefits transfer to mental health benefits. Exercising outside makes us feel better, boosts our mood, and combats depression and anxiety.
Transform your body and your mind by carving out time to appreciate and explore the world around you.
Put your health first and get outside. Your body and mind will thank you for it.