For most of human history we spent considerable periods of time outside. Much work was done in fields and transportation where “open” to the air in most instances. It is only in recent times that so many of us (in the developed world) spend time indoors.
And like with many aspects of health, we can take things for granted and not recognize its importance till it is gone. There is an increasing body of work showing that getting outdoors is good for our health.
Already office workers have been dubbed the new coal miners. Lack of sun exposure is the biggest factor causing so many of us to be low in vitamin D. Those who do a regular walk outside are also less prone to depression.
Children who go outside to play are less likely to be overweight. Their fitness improves and their overall wellbeing and self esteem goes up. It has also been shown that children are less likely to be short sighted if they spend more time outside in natural light.
Again this makes sense, as our eyes have been adapted to sunlight for thousands of years.
Getting out into nature has been shown to be beneficial for conditions including asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression.
But even putting all that aside, on a sunny day if you go outside to the park, the beach, a valley or even your back yard, you feel better. It has an uplifting effect on our mood. For doubters, researchers at Stanford University have actually demonstrated this.
Similarly, for much of human history we had down time. When it was dark there was not much we could do. With modern devices we are “connected” 24/7. This has advantages but there is never such a thing as a free lunch.
A hotel in Germany charges US$1200 per night for a room where there is no mobile reception. Think about this for a moment. People pay over a thousand dollars because they feel unable to switch their phone off themselves!
If ever there was a sign of the times that would be it.
Meanwhile a team from Massachusetts General Hospital did a trial on the effects of meditation and yoga. The findings were startling! Those who underwent a form of relaxation training had a 43% reduction in their use of health services in the following year.
This is a massive reduction. We know that stress plays a major role in a number of both physical and mental conditions. Stress triggers the fight or flight response and the body releases stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. This is great if you need to run from a predator. But not good for the body in the long term as it contributes to slow inflammation – the underlying cause of numerous chronic conditions.
By better managing stress through relaxation techniques, these people saw a significant improvement in their wellbeing with an associated drop in doctor visits.
Even simple slow deep breathing exercises, which you can do anywhere anytime, will help reduce stress and stress hormone levels.
There is more to good health than diet and exercise. Relaxation and spending time outdoors are simple and free. They reduce stress levels and enhance wellbeing.
Add them to your wellness routine.
Dr Joe Kosterich M.B.B.S is an author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life. Dr Joe also gives practical, motivational health talks for the general public and organisations where he is known as “An independent doctor who talks about health”.
His latest book “60 minutes to Better Health” is available on Amazon.