Summer in the Blue Water Area affords those of us lucky enough to live here the opportunity to improve our health while enjoying stunning scenery and many outdoor activities. Whether it’s picnicking at Pine Grove Park, boating on our spectacular waterways, taking a swim at Lakeside Park, strolling along the Blue Water River Walk, or bicycling the Bridge-to-Bay Trail, there is never a shortage of fun and interesting activities for area residents to enjoy.
Unfortunately, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, an American who lives until the average age of 78 will have spent 68 years of their life indoors, five years in their car and only fives years outdoors!
By spending so little time outdoors, we are robbing ourselves of the many physical and mental benefits of nature. Nature’s fresh air helps our lungs to dilate more fully and improves their ability to cleanse the body of indoor pollutants like mold, mildew, bacteria, dust mites and animal dander. Spending time outdoors also lowers heart rates and blood pressure rates, while providing vitamin D, which is critical for bone growth, cell growth and neuromuscular and immune function. Because very few foods contain vitamin D, to stay healthy most of us need to get 80 percent to 90 percent of our vitamin D from sunshine.
It is also unfortunate that according to the Centers for Disease Control, only 20 percent of Americans meet the recommendations of exercising moderately for two and a half hours per week and vigorous exercise for an hour and 15 minutes per week. Instead, most adult do only 17 minutes of fitness activity a day. Unhealthy diets, combined with lack of exercise, contribute to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the United States. In the past 30 years, obesity rates have doubled in adults, tripled in children, and quadrupled in adolescents.
Outdoor activities make exercise easier because when we’re out of doors we’re distracted from physical activity by the sights and sounds and smells around us. Great outdoor aerobic activities like walking, jogging, cycling, hiking swimming, and kayaking strengthen heart and lungs, lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, improve immune function, and lower blood pressure. Aerobic exercise also burns up calories, which can in turn help to shed excess weight.
Spending time outside also has substantial mental health benefits. Being outdoors make us happy by decreasing anxiety, stress and depression. There is hard scientific evidence backing this up. Sunlight exposure is important in maintaining healthy serotonin levels. Serotonin is one of the chief chemicals in your body that is responsible for maintaining mood balance. Also, scientific studies have shown that people who spend time outdoors have lower levels of cortisol — a hormone that is used as a marker for stress — than people who spend most of their time indoors. Modern brain scanning technology provides the answer why, revealing that when outdoors the brain’s “command center,” the prefrontal cortex, is less active, resting like an overworked muscle.
Additional positive mental health results from spending time outdoors includes increased brain function, reduced symptoms of ADHD, increased creativity, improved short term memory, and less mental fatigue. Studies indicate that the impact of spending just 20 minutes outside to mental alertness is about the same as we get from a cup of coffee!
To enjoy all these benefits, commit to spending at least a half hour to 45 minutes outside every day. Even better, try to spend some time outside every day exercising. It’s never too late to enjoy the great outdoors!
For St. Clair County Community Mental Health services visit sccchm.org or call (810) 985-8900.