Spring is officially here and its time to get back to the great outdoors. Whether you enjoy biking, hiking, or a different outdoor fitness activity, it is great to know that fresh air exercise actually invigorates the body and nurtures the mind by reducing stress. After escaping indoors from the cold most of the winter, breathing fresh air and feeling the warm glow of the sun on your skin is rejuvenating and lifts your spirits. Not only does it feel great, but exposure to sunlight and fresh air actually offers your body both physical and mental health benefits.
Time Out for Yourself
Our increasingly busy schedules make it difficult for us to find the time to participate in outdoor activities or exercise. Whether it means waking up a half hour earlier in the morning to take a quick jog or waiting until the kids are tucked into bed at night, we encourage you to give it a shot – you won’t be disappointed. Fresh air helps clear your lungs and enables you to take deeper, longer breaths of air – increasing the amount of oxygen that is transported to your body’s cells. Increased oxygen in your body means greater energy and clarity of mind. According to a group of studies published in a 2010 issue of the “Journal of Environmental Psychology,” research participants reported feeling happier, healthier and more alive when they spent time in nature.”
Say Farewell to Winter Blues – Reduce Stress Levels and Depression
April is National Stress Awareness Month and connecting with nature by exercising outdoors helps to alleviate worries and refresh the mind as well as increasing your energy levels. Sports and fitness activities, such as bicycling, walking, kayaking, hiking and running, are all great ways to enjoy nature and make a positive impact on your physical and mental well being.
Phytoncides are airborne chemicals that plants and trees emit for protection from insects and rot. These chemicals, which linger in forest fresh air, also happen to be at the center of research in regards to stress reduction. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Biological Regulators & Homeostatic Agents recruited participants to spend time walking forest and city areas for this very reason. According to the research, participants showed more physical signs of relaxation – including lower blood pressure and lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol – when they spent time in the forest rather than in the city.
Sunlight is also thought to help ward off depression and stress because the “Happy” chemical serotonin is higher in the brain during the time of year when days are longer.
Exercising outdoors and breathing in fresh air reduces your vulnerability to infections, colds and flu by decreasing stress levels and strengthening your immune system. Outdoor exercise in the sun’s light is an important source of vitamin D. Your body requires sunlight to produce vitamin D, so when you spend your exercise time outdoors, you improve your levels of this important vitamin. It’s important to get at least 20 minutes of sun exposure three times per week to keep up vitamin D levels for your health.
Benefits of Outdoor Exercise
Our lifestyle of spending hours a day in front of a computer, a TV, or other electronic devices has resulted in an increase of body fat in Americans, including children. Exercising in fresh air increases physical activity and helps counteract the negative physical and mental health impact of a sedentary, indoor lifestyle. Some of the benefits of outdoor exercise are:
Regular exercise helps to increase lung capacity and respiratory efficiency. Exercising in fresh air provides cleaner air for your lungs. The feeling of breathing fresh air offers a lift — this feeling is heightened in outdoor exercise as compared to exercising indoors. Increasing your outdoor exercise sessions provides your body with necessary oxygen. As you lung capacity increases, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to fill your lungs.
No More Twisting and Turning
According to an article in Health, by the U.S. News & World Report, just 15 minutes a day of sunlight at the same time every day, particularly in the morning hours, helps your body shut off a snooze-inducing chemical called melatonin. This helps your body develop a more established night time/day time clock so you’re less likely to have trouble sleeping when the sun goes down.