5 Health Benefits to Being Outside

Breathing heavily, I paced myself up the snowy mountain pass. My sixty pound pack was hung over my shoulders with everything I needed for the next three days in the wilderness. The cold mountain air invigorated me to keep pushing forward. I was sweating like a Gatorade bottle on a humid day. Looking up, I noticed the tree line was becoming thinner. As Wilma Rudolph said, “When the sun is shinning, I can do anything; no mountain is to high to overcome, no trouble is to difficult to overcome.”

In June of 2014, I hiked Denali State Park promoting the values and benefits of America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. This action addresses recreation and conservation through job opportunities and volunteering, additional green space and urban parks, water conservation and restoration as well as protection of rural working farms, ranches and forests through partnerships.

I grew up on a farm in Michigan. I learned early on the important lessons from being outside. My family and I grew vegetables and fruit on our forty acres. I spent my summers outside gardening, camping and swimming. We shared a special connection with wildlife and the environment. Nature will always be healing mechanism, promoting many benefits for a long and healthy life.

1.) The Sun: The sun can build a stronger immune system, is an excellent source of vitamin D, and improves sight. According to New York Times article, in the 1970's, 25% of Americans were nearsighted. In 2011, it had risen to 42% and becoming a global issue. Why?

Americans are spending less time outside. Technology today has made our lives easier, yet people tend to spend more time inside working with computers, watching television or looking at iPads for extended periods of time. Many studies have been conducted about the importance of being outside and having fun in the sun. Too much sun can have dangerous side effects, such as increasing your risk of skin cancer. With proper clothing, sun screen, as well the recommended daily exposure for your skin type can ranging from fifteen minutes to two hours, depending on your skin type.

2.) Diabetes and Obesity: You don’t have to look far in America, as well as across the globe to know that the people on the planet are getting heavier. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 50% of Americans do not exercise for 30 minutes, at least 5 times a week. Since young people don’t see adults exercising regularly, about one third of high school students do not engage in vigorous exercise.

Diet, behavior and environment are contributing factors of why people are less inclined to exercise. A heavy diet of processed foods can make many people lethargic and tired, as well as increase their probability of having many health problems. Type 2 Diabetes, which normally is only found in adults is now showing up in young people.

Getting outside often can be an intimidating way to get back into shape for overweight people. Most people want to do it in the comfort of their own home, or a gym. Research has found that exercising outside can increase your positive self- image, give you higher levels of energy, as well as make you happier and able to cope with stress better.

3.) Plants and Green Space: As the population of the world increases, green spaces are becoming a rarity. Luckily, many people are taking part in urban agriculture projects and community gardens. Programs like “Greening of Detroit” are small steps to help get people outside and make their community a better place to live and grow. Plants (both inside and outside) improve the air quality. Inside air quality has proven worse than the outdoor air quality.

Having house plants can help improve the air quality, claims a study by NASA and the Landscape Contractors of America. City dwellers can help contribute to better air quality by maintaining a few house plants. Small steps may lead to expanding their interests to outdoor gardening, or agriculture. Some gardening tasks can be considered moderate to high intensity physical activity. It’s good for you, as well as the planet.

4.) Natural prescription: I was diagnosed with depressions five years ago and most doctors wanted to put me on anti-depressants. Now many doctors are writing prescriptions for outdoor activity. Lots of people are not comfortable being outside. They need guidelines or a prescription to help them become more sure of themselves in an unfamiliar setting.For me, nature was the critical factor of overcoming depression.

John Muir, a conservationist and environmentalist said, “To sit in solitude, to think in solitude with only the music of the stream and the cedar to break the flow of silence, there lies the value of wilderness.

5)Nature-Deficit Disorder: This term was coined by author and environmentalist Richard Louv, describing how humans, especially children are spending less time outdoors, thus resulting in more behavioral problems.

Louv points out that during the research of the book, he found that college students in 2005 (including myself) were living in a “de-natural environment.” My generation, has spent enough time outside to know they don’t want to be the last child in the woods.

Standing on top of a snow- capped mountain, gave me a real sense of pride and a yearning for more. Nature has always guided me on the path towards living longer, healthier and happier.