The benefits of the outdoors

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We all know that breathing fresh air is good. It can make us feel more invigorated and alive. Increasingly, however, there is a growing body of research that outdoor exposure is essential to health, both mental and physical. Here are some of the benefits of the outdoors, and ways to get them.

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Sun exposure

Getting out in the sun helps boost the body’s production of vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and immune system support. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) generally recommends that adults get 600-800 IU of vitamin D daily, and in older adults this is usually through supplements. How much time one needs to be in the sun is up for debate, although it’s generally suggested that even 15 minutes a day can help.

Activities like gardening, walking, or even eating out can help maintain vitamin D levels.

Green Stress Relief

Being outside among trees and green grass has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood, and even 15 minutes can produce benefits. A report from researchers in the Netherlands found that simply looking at photos of greenery could help reduce stress.

Of course, being outside the net offers the most benefits. A recent study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry showed that walking on tree-lined paths (in “nature”) reduced activity in a part of the brain that communicates stress. This means that people might not only report feeling better after being outdoors, but their brains reflect this as well.
Much like sunlight, anything you can do in a park-like environment can help.

New perspectives

Getting out of the house (just being outside) has been shown to help cope with age-related changes involving musculoskeletal pain and cognitive decline. Some research also supports that getting outside may also help improve sleep, especially for people over 70.

Perhaps for the most fun, try joining in some lawn games (bocce anyone?) or as mentioned above, a short walk or reading a book outside. Simply sitting outside and paying attention to birdsong or the breeze can have positive effects on well-being.

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