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Nature is Calling About Your Health

Columnist: Kristin Anderson, M.D.
October, 2019 Issue
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Kristin Anderson, M.D.
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In the North Bay, with our abundance of beautiful trails, forests, and coasts, we have no shortage of ways to enjoy the outdoors. In the high-tech modern world, however, we often find ourselves spending more time indoors—at the office, in schools, businesses, even our homes. We get in our cars or take mass transit to our jobs, eat lunch at our desks, and then get in the car to drive home. The process starts all over again the next day.

On weekends, leisure time often involves indoor activities, especially in the winter months. What may not seem obvious to us as we pursue our busy schedules is that being indoors and spending more time under artificial light can have a negative effect on our health over time.
 
How staying indoors impacts health

Your body’s 24 hour circadian clock, for example, regulated by the natural cycle of night and day, helps you maintain a regular sleep cycle. Disruptions to this inner clock can cause a change in bodily functions, including the quality of your sleep. Lack of sleep not only can lead to mood and energy changes, it can cause us to forgo healthy diet and exercise habits, often leading to other health conditions such as obesity or diabetes. Depression and anxiety may also occur; many residents of Northern countries report experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when they go through long periods of time without seeing the sun.

The benefit of time outdoors
If you’re reading this after having spent the day outdoors in one of the North Bay’s beautiful parks and open spaces, or hiking or riding on one of the local trails, then a recently published study by the University of Exeter proving the health benefits of spending time outside won’t come as a surprise. The study shows that people who routinely spend time in nature, reported significantly better health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t.

The study followed the lifestyle habits of 20,000 people in England and revealed that two hours a week is the minimum amount needed for health and wellbeing, and those 120 minutes can be split however best fits your lifestyle. For example, you can take a two-hour weekend hike with friends on a Saturday, or split the time up during the course of a week. Go for a 30 minute walk after dinner, or spend time working in your garden.
Results from the study show that everyone benefits from time spent outdoors: men and women, older and younger adults, rich and poor. Additionally, even those with disabilities or long-term illness, experienced the same positive result. The study also showed a reduction in stress levels as well as lower probabilities of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma hospitalization, mental distress and mortality among people spending more time outdoors.
 
In one example, women recently diagnosed with breast cancer, highly stressed as a result of their diagnoses and treatments, were better able to complete attention tasks given as part of the study after spending the minimum two hours outside during a five-week period. Maintaining a good perspective on life and spending more quality time with friends and family were also cited as benefits of the two hours in nature “prescription.”

Two hours a week
How can you make sure you’re getting those important two hours outdoors every week? For me, running and biking to work are the answer. For you, it may be taking a walk during your lunch hour, gardening, or planning a weekend getaway that will take you away from indoor chores. Whatever steps you can take to enjoy time outdoor, it will be an investment in your health you won’t regret.

 

 

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