The pandemic has exacerbated the "inside-ness" of the modern lifestyle by consolidating many people's work-life and home-life into one location. The boundaries between these two main spheres of people's lives have become even more blurred over the past year and, as a result of everything happening in the same space, we have little need to even look at our front door; let along step through it.
We are however, the descendants of ancestors who, naturally, spent a lot of their time outdoors; mainly because they hadn't invented the door. It should therefore come as no surprise that spending time outdoors in nature is beneficial for both our mental and physical health.
Before we begin to tout the benefits of the great outdoors we want to note that, whilst we say the "great outdoors" and "in nature", many of these benefits can also be reaped by spending time outdoors in an urban area if you don't have a natural place nearby. We're also not talking about heading out on a 20-mile hike or a 30-mile ebike ride. No we're focusing on the benefits of being present in an outdoor space, although a natural setting is much preferred; naturally.
Get Your Vitamin D!
Your mom said it, your grandma said it, even your school teacher might have said it, and they weren’t wrong! It is said that around 40% of adults in the USA do not get the recommended amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D production is stimulated by the sun’s rays, UV rays to be specific, and adequate amounts cannot be achieved through diet alone. The UV rays from the sun are the best, easiest, and most unlimited source of vitamin D in the solar system!
Vitamin D is essential for helping the gut to absorb calcium which, in turn, promotes healthy bone growth and bone maintenance. This, in turn, helps to regulate and promote a strong immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis as well as an increased risk of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes.
Sunscreen? Sunscreen blocks the UV rays which stimulate vitamin D production. We’re not telling you not to wear sunscreen; as Baz Luhrmann famously told the class of ’99 Wear Sunscreen. If you’re planning on being out in the sun for a few hours then wearing sunscreen or covering up are essential for protecting your skin, however, a few short stints, 20-30 minutes, every week out in the sunshine will help you get that dose of nature's happy rays that your body needs!
The rhythm of the sun is one we have strayed away from with our modern lives lived in modern caves with doors that close and alternative, electric lighting available at the flick of a switch. But that doesn't mean we should shut the sunshine out completely! Along with the vitamin D mentioned earlier, the sun helps to keep us in a rhythm that is regulated by hormones that are turned on and off by our access to sunlight.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, S.A.D, has long been linked to the lack of sunlight hours available during the winter months, and some speculate that our modern lifestyle, which has us indoors for many sunlight hours and using artificial lights during nighttime hours, has many people experiencing the effects of SAD year-round.
Serotonin, a chemical which the body uses to regulate a wide variety of biological functions, including our moods -evidenced by the fact that many antidepressants focus on boosting serotonin levels-, digestion, sleep, and spacial and short-term memory -which is why low levels of serotonin are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Serotonin production is promoted by vitamin D, so you could say you need vitamin D to make serotonin, so you could also say you need sunlight to keep you happy, improve your digestion, your sleep, and your memory!
Many studies have linked lower levels of serotonin to depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other negative mental health issues. One thing doctors and psychiatrists are beginning to prescribe to their patients who are suffering from these negative mental issues is to get outside and get some sunshine! There’s no reason we should not all be doing the same.
Just as we said at the start, we’re not telling you to start marathon training. Heading outside invariably involves exercise, and exercise comes with a multitude of benefits for both your physical and mental health. Even just a small amount of exercise provides benefits including stimulated blood flow, improved mood, and boosted energy levels. Exercise also helps to reduce stress, promote better sleep, and increase relaxation. Exercise is also known to combat almost every mental condition known to mankind.
Home has become work, work has become home, it can be hard to get away from it all nowadays and this unseen imprisonment can be stressful. Mount that on top of the already omnipresent stresses of work and home life and you have a very bad mental health cocktail on your mind.
Stress is the secret killer of the modern world. Never before have we been under so much stress. But we all now take being stressed as a natural part of life. Stress should never be made acceptable like this. Alongside the huge catalog of the potential side effects of consistently high levels of stress, stress can also weaken the immune system, reducing our ability to fight infections (noteworthy during a pandemic), and provoke chronic inflammation.
Getting outside and away from the space we occupy for so many of our waking hours allows those mental and physical muscles that have been, proverbially and literally, tightened by the buildup of stress to loosen and relax; reducing stress. Furthermore, research has found that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help to reduce the effects of both physical and mental stress.
Improve Your Vision
Just like carrots don’t give you night vision, stepping outside every day isn’t going to enable you to toss aside your glasses. When you spend most of your time inside your horizons become the walls that surround you, but maybe you permit yourself a longing glance through the window a few times a day too. What is most likely is that, like many of us, you spend a lot of your day staring at screens, be those computer, TV, phone, or tablet screens.
There’re many problems associated with our fixation on screens, one of which that we can cure with a visit to the outside world is Computer Vision Syndrome a.k.a Digital Eye Strain. This comes from spending too much of our time focused on near objects, such as screens, and symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, red eyes, and headaches.
Getting outside is one of the best ways that we can change the distance from which we view objects. Getting outside and looking around can help sufferers diminish, and even get rid of, the symptoms of this syndrome; all with one simple lifestyle change!
Getting sunlight into our eyes also plays an important role in our bodies' natural sleep-wake cycle and our overall health. Studies show the importance of natural blue light, especially for seniors, and getting outdoors and receiving the rays of that great-ball-of-fire in the sky is the best way to do this!
To Close: Go it Alone
Whilst it is great to join with others in the experience of stepping outside and reaping the benefits of the world beyond our front door, doing it alone can exponentially improve the benefits you garner from the outdoors. For example, heading out with others will mean that you get to catch the rays you need and get some exercise but it may not provide the headspace for you to relax and absorb the world around you.
This is not to say that you should always enjoy the outdoors without a companion but, when appropriate, designate yourself some good personal time with nature. Maybe take your ebike and ride out to your local state park, national forest, or green space, and enjoy the freedom as you leave all your modern woes on the trail or pavement behind you and absorb the sight, sounds, and rays of our beautiful world.
A Note on Mental Health
The pandemic has cast a bright light on the need for each and every one of us to take better mental and physical care of ourselves and, especially when it comes to mental health, there are now a wide variety of options for people to explore when they want to take charge of their personal condition.
Whilst stepping outside has great benefits for the mind, body, and soul it may not meet the needs of everyone. We here at Aventon recognize the wide variety of mental struggles people experience and encourage anyone who is struggling with any level of mental condition to reach out to those around them for support, and, where necessary, professional help. We can assure you that you are not alone and that help is just on the other side of a click, a phone call, or a knock on the door.