Happy Thanksgiving! Like most of you, I am most thankful for the love and support of my family and friends. I am also very thankful for health and wellness. But this year, the year of the global pandemic which has limited my access to the warm hugs and smiles of those I love, I am more grateful than ever for simple things…the beauty of nature and the great outdoors in NEPA!
With this in mind, I am also grateful to the first environmentalists in the Americas…Native Americans! Long before John Muir and the Sierra Club, Native Americans were stewards of the planet. Native Americans feel that everything in nature has a soul… living creatures, trees, mountains, rocks and even water! Therefore, they believe that all of nature must be treated with respect and honor. Today, when being outdoors in nature is more important than ever, we are the beneficiaries of their stewardship. Now it is our turn to enjoy, respect and protect nature for future generations!
GET THE HECK OUTSIDE!
Research shows that spending time outdoors has many positive effects on your health. With a little imagination, one can find many year round activity options in Northeastern Pennsylvania. While swimming, boating, kayaking, biking and golfing may be winding down, consider other options this winter. With proper equipment and clothing, walking, running, hiking, fat-tire biking, snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing can be enjoyed. Studies show that even less vigorous activities such as barbequing or reading a good book on the porch are healthier than being indoors... so bundle up next to a good fire pit or outdoor propane heater and get outdoors!
Even before the pandemic, it was reported that Americans spend 90% of their lives indoors and that number increases with age. Worse yet, for some, venturing outdoors is considered risky behavior with fear of the sun, heat, ticks, wind, cold, mosquitoes and other creatures of God. Well, the truth of the matter is the risk of being one with nature is far less than the ill effects of a life stuck indoors. Please consider the following benefits of spending time outdoors.
Nature’s Vitamin D – Current research suggests that Vitamin D (The Sunshine Vitamin), may offer significant disease prevention and healing powers for osteoporosis, some forms of cancer and heart disease. Of all the methods of getting an adequate amount of Vitamin D, none is more fun than spending time outdoors in the sunlight. It seems that health concerns of ultraviolet light, sun burn and skin cancer have created an overreaction to the point of Vitamin D deficiency in many. Balance and common sense go a long way. One can attain normal levels of Vitamin D by being outdoors in the sun and exposing their arms and legs for 10 -15 minutes a few times per week. Additional time in the sun warrants sunscreen and Vitamin D supplements can be used if necessary.
Increase Activity Level – While exercising indoors in a gym is valuable, research shows that time spent indoors is associated with being sedentary and being sedentary is associated with obesity, especially in children. Some studies show that children in the United States spend an average of 6 ½ hours per day with electronic devices such as computers, video games and television. It is also reported that a child’s activity level more than doubles when they are outdoors. So, get out of the office, house and gym as often as possible. Consider weight training at the gym and doing cardio by walking, biking or running outdoors.
Improved Mental Health – It is well documented that light affects mood. So, unless you live in a glass house or a light box, getting outdoors is important to your mental health. Furthermore, studies show that exercising outdoors in the presence of nature, even for as little as 5- 10 minutes has additional mental health benefits. For those less active, read or listen to music outdoors next to a fire.
Improved Concentration – Richard Louv, author of the book, “Last Child in the Woods,” coined the term, nature-deficit disorder.” This term is supported by research that found children with ADHD focus better when outdoors. Furthermore, it was discovered that these children scored higher on concentration tests following a walk in the park than they did after a walk in their residential neighborhoods or downtown areas, showing the benefit of the “green outdoors.”
Improved Health and Healing – Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that patients recovering from surgery recovered faster with less pain and shorter hospital stays when they were exposed to natural light. Next time you’re recovering from an illness, discuss this with your physician.
Improved Breathing – In general, breathing fresh air is good for you. Some exceptions might be those with severe allergy problems when the pollen count is high. In spite of this, it may be better to take allergy medicine and enjoy the benefits of being outdoors than to be stuck inside. Many pulmonologists believe people with pulmonary problems would benefit from outdoor activities such as a 10-15 minute walk because they are prone to osteoporosis and Vitamin D deficiency. Local pulmonologist, Dr. Gregory Cali, DO, agrees and also adds that studies do not show that high humidity is dangerous for respiratory patients but it may be uncomfortable. In cold temperatures, those with pulmonary problems must avoid directly breathing cold air by covering up their mouths when walking outdoors. Overall, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.