Go Outside And Play! Our kids probably heard that every single day as the were growing up. I instinctively knew that time outdoors was good for them. After a while in the sunshine and fresh air, they were so much calmer, happier and easier to be around!
The physical and emotional benefits of spending time in nature for adults as well as children, especially in times of high stress, are well-documented and well- proclaimed. Hardly a day went by in 2020 without a magazine article or a news report or a Facebook post or even a tweet appearing that reminded us how important time spent in nature was to our physical and emotional well-being. What I’ve noticed recently --now that winter is at its peak -- is that all of the go outside articles have been replaced with stay inside ones.
For many, myself included, the idea of going outside in cold, snowy weather is absolutely ludicrous. We prefer to enjoy the outdoors sitting by the fireplace and gazing out of a frost covered windowpane. Unfortunately staying indoors during the winter months may keep us warm and toasty, but it can also add to or even cause some health-related problems.
An old wives tale says you will catch a cold from being outside too long in winter. The truth is the runny nose you get from being outside in cold weather is actually the body’s way of keeping your nasal passages moist and working properly. Winter colds usually come from spending time indoors, where virus germs are rampant in the warm, dry air.
Staying indoors throughout the winter months severely limits the amount of Vitamin D you take in. Unlike so many other vitamins, D is not found in most foods. Instead, we rely on sunlight and supplements to meet the daily requirements. A deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to thin, weak bones, muscles that have difficulty moving, nerves that can’t carry messages to the brain, an immune system that can’t fight bacteria and a dive into depression. Sitting next to a window may give you a great view, but it won’t give you any Vitamin D. Vitamin D is only absorbed when sunlight reaches your skin.
Tight, energy efficient homes are great at keeping utility bills down but can also reduce the quality of the air you breathe every day. Air with even slightly higher levels of CO2 and VOCs has been shown to reduce problem solving and other complex thinking skills. As few as 15 minutes a day outside in the fresh air can significantly clear brain fog and lead to sharper thinking.
A sedentary life slows your metabolism which can lead to weight gain, lethargy, stiffness and even pain. Walking on the uneven terrain of winter and in the cold temperatures forces your body to work harder, raising your metabolic rate -- perhaps even enough to justify a mug of steaming hot chocolate with marshmallows.
What used to be known as the Winter Blues now has a name -- Seasonal Affective Disorder. Those who suffer with this typically have feelings of sadness and depression throughout the fall and winter months. They have low energy and often have trouble sleeping. While severe cases need medical intervention, mild symptoms are often improved simply by spending time outdoors in natural light.
A true winter enthusiast, Sandy DeFoe has some words of wisdom for those of us still reluctant to venture out in cold weather. “I love winter! Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Rocky Mountains where the snow and cold were welcomed not only for their beauty, but as a giant toy! Winter did not mean being trapped indoors. Warmer clothes were (and are) the gateway to a magically transformed world of wonder.” And when you think about it, winter does, for a short time, reshape the world into an extraordinary place. Even the utterly familiar becomes something new, something different, something exciting.
Listening to Sandy talk about her winter treks through the woods and reading about all of the benefits of being outside in winter has inspired me to take some time out today-- literally! I hope you’ll join me, if not on a walk through the woods, perhaps around the block.
P.S. Don't forget to join us this weekend for part 2 of our Using Your Winter Eyes Series.