Finding time in our busy schedules to go out and enjoy nature can be diﬃcult in the best of weather. But in winter, the challenge becomes even greater: it’s colder, roads and parks may be full of snow and ice, and, as it gets dark earlier, there’s simply not as much time in the day. In the worst cases, winter weather may trigger a form of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
All the more reason, then, to get outside! Just a few minutes a day has been proven to improve both our moods and our physical health, leading to reduced stress and increased self-esteem. In this post, we’ll tell you why.
Let’s start with some hard science: exposing your skin to the sun’s UVB rays is vital for your body to get the Vitamin D it needs. Unlike other nutrients, Vitamin D is not present in large doses in foods, and studies have shown that insuﬃciency of what is known as the “sunshine” vitamin affects nearly one in two people worldwide. Fortunately, there’s no need to go as far as getting a tan or burn – every a little bit of sun helps.
Being outside also improves our immune systems. This is especially important for children, as it helps them build up their natural resistances. When children come into contact with dirt, bacteria, and animals during outside play, they are helping to reduce the risks of allergies and autoimmune diseases in the future.
And while we’re at it, let’s put to bed once and for all the old nostrum that playing outside in cold weather makes us sick. While we may very well get a runny nose – the body’s way of secreting bacteria in cold weather – we catch colds from other people, not from cold temperatures themselves. For that reason, staying inside, in close quarters with other people, is probably more dangerous than going outside. Of course, it’s important to dress warmly and in layers that can be removed as exertion warms us up, and put back on as we cool down.
And the benefits aren’t only for kids. According to a study performed by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the simple act of walking led to increased creativity in 81% of participants, with the best results coming from walking outdoors, as opposed to indoor exercise on a treadmill. It is not hard to see why: combining the endorphin-releasing effect of physical exertion with the stimulation of a physical landscape – a snow-capped forest, an ice-covered river or lake, even the familiar features of your neighborhood in an early-morning or late-afternoon light – makes for a potent cocktail, indeed.
Finally, being outside helps improve our relationships. In a nation where we spend 87% of our time in enclosed buildings and 6% more in vehicles, a large driver of what is euphemistically known as “cabin fever” is isolation. This can be combatted by getting out into a communal space where other people can participate in what you are doing. This might mean inviting a friend for a walk or bike ride; dusting off those old skis, skates, or snowshoes; or even just saying hello to neighbors or strangers on the street or in a park.
Going outdoors in winter provides a host of health benefits, but it can be hard to convince our brains to try new things and establish new patterns. To get yourself started, think ahead. Choose a time period of 15 minutes during your day when it will be the most convenient for you to go outside, and then actually block off that time on your calendar—for every day of the week. Try it for a week and see how you feel. Chances are, you’ll feel so good about it that you’ll schedule it for next week, as well.