A Breath of Fresh Air
By Jessica Polfer – Talent Aquisition Manager
Have you ever had to step out for a breath of fresh air to clear your head after a heated conversation? Many of us also seek fresh air as a cure for nausea or to alleviate cold and croup symptoms. Sunshine makes us happier. These natural prescriptions for time outdoors and fresh air have been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments – and for good reason.
Today, doctors are still recommending time outside as a prescription for better overall health. This phenomenon has been called the ‘fresh-air cure’. While there is no magical fresh-air cure, numerous medical studies do show a clear connection between time spent outside and better physical and mental health. According to Harvard Heath Publishing, one of the simplest ways to help reduce stress and depression is to get outside.
Most of us could do a better job of implementing this critical habit into our daily routines. According to one government estimate, the average American spends 90% of his or her life indoors. 35% of American office workers are outside less than 15 minutes per day. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition and many psychologists believe the negative impacts of these conditions – and stress in general – could be lessened if we all spent a bit more time enjoying the outdoors.
Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and increased mental focus. And, although it’s not clear why, studies show that time spent in natural settings leads to lower activity in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain – basically reducing repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions. Essentially, this part of the brain malfunctions without adequate ‘natural spaces’ according to Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance. “Interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools you can use.”
The 7 Best Reasons to Get Outside:
- Stress & Anxiety Reduction
- Outdoor silence and nature’s sounds are calming and have been shown to lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- You’ll Get More Exercise WITHOUT TRYING!
- Less time in front of devices means more time strolling, gardening, cleaning up the yard, and doing other things that put the body in motion
- Increased Vitamin D
- Epidemiologic studies suggest the sunshine vitamin may have protective effects against everything from osteoporosis to cancer while improving muscle function, and reducing physical fatigue
- You only need 10-15 minutes of exposure to the sun to reap the benefits so be sure to still apply your sunscreen
- You’ll Be Happier
- Natural sunlight is proven to elevate people’s moods because it increases the release of serotonin, aka: the happy hormone 😊
- There’s more natural light outside
- Improved Concentration
- Researchers have reported that children with ADHD focus and test better after being outdoors
- Office workers who break up the day with just a 5-minute walk outside are more productive due to better concentration
- Increased Creativity
- Researchers for the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that walking increases creative drive and so does the simple act of being outside; doing both simultaneously not only increased the number of ideas people had, but the novelty and inventiveness of those ideas
- You Just May Heal Faster
- University of Pittsburgh researchers report that spinal surgery patients experienced less pain and stress and took fewer pain medications during their recoveries if they were exposed to natural light
- Other studies have shown that just having a natural view or listening to the sounds of nature improves health and healing if patients are unable to get outside
So, How Much Time Should We Be Spending Outdoors?
- Ideally, we should get outside for at least 30 minutes every day, but just 20 minutes a day is enough to boost vitality levels
- In 2010, University of Essex researchers found that just five minutes of working out in green spaces improved an individual’s self-esteem and mood (but not as many other benefits)
- It’s important to note, that time spent outside is most beneficial when we take the time to enjoy the scenery and fresh air (i.e. not checking emails or Facebook while walking)
10 Tips for Fitting In A Bit More Time Outdoors:
- Make it a habit to put on outdoor clothes the moment you get home from work – you’re more likely to go outside if you’re not in dress shoes or pajamas
- Move your exercise routine outside
- Assemble an outside activity box. What do you love to do while outside? Watercolor painting, shooting baskets, play fetch with your dog, tend your flower beds, practice your golf swing? Whatever it is – have your gear in a convenient box/area and ready for instant usage
- Park a little further from your destination and enjoy the walk
- Schedule your social time outside – your beverage will be more beneficial on the patio than on your couch
- Garden in small batches. Saving up all the gardening and other outside chores for the weekend results in longer periods of work and makes the outdoors seem less attractive – smaller spurts throughout the week will get you outdoors more frequently and be more fun
- If you have kids or grandkids – make some time to play outside with them
- Take a quick walk around the exterior of your building when you arrive at work
- There’s a saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” so put on your rainboots during the Springtime showers or bundle up for a quick 5-minute walk during winter
- Outdoors is best, but if you can’t fit in as much time as you like consider a sunlight or natural light lamp for your desk or reading area.
Summer beckons. What better time to get out and enjoy the fresh air?!