Most people spend the majority of their time indoors, even when the weather is nice. Though you may be busy, getting outside is important for your physical and mental health because one of the benefits of sunlight is reducing seasonal affective disorder symptoms.
“It is important for people to expose themselves to sunlight, especially people who may have suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter,” said Celeste Jackson, nurse practitioner in Behavioral Health at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Natural light can replace light box therapy, which people with SAD may have been using. I usually tell patients they can discontinue the light box around May 1.”
Here are six benefits of spending time in the great outdoors:
1. More chances to exercise
Many people say walking is their preferred workout, but they don’t exercise much in the winter months when it’s too cold or slippery to stroll outside. When the weather is nice, don’t miss out on the health benefits of walking. Schedule a time to walk your neighborhood with friends or drive to a park or nature center with walking paths.
“Increasing exercise outside is good for your mental health,” Jackson said. She added that, in general, it is important to invest time in activities purely for enjoyment.
“The newest literature suggests you should do something for enjoyment at least 15 minutes a day to help with depression,” Jackson said.
2. More vitamin D
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Low levels of vitamin D, caused by low dietary intake of the vitamin or not enough exposure to sunshine, have been found in people with SAD.”
The skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium to build strong bones.
3. Reduced seasonal affective disorder symptoms
Symptoms of depression tend to lessen in spring and summer when there is more natural sunlight. Getting outside is one of the benefits of sunlight and can help jumpstart the process.
4. Better mood in general
Spending time outside can improve your mood even if you don’t have seasonal affective disorder. “Most people say they feel happier and less anxious when they’re outdoors,” Jackson said.
5. Make community connections
Enjoying outdoor activities in your area and meeting your neighbors helps you feel connected to your community, which is good for your mental health.
“Increasing your opportunities for socialization is often easier when the weather is nicer, and it is important to make the most of those chances,” Jackson said.
6. Less screen time
Stepping outdoors and away from your TV, cellphone or computer reduces stress, helps you sleep better and improves focus. Consider leaving your cellphone behind or turning it off when you’re enjoying the outdoors.