By Carol Phillips
With the weather getting colder and winter looming ahead, I often hear people dreading the next several months, hating the cold and planning to spend as much time as possible indoors. Although we all have our favorite seasons, spending time outside year-round has numerous health benefits we should embrace.
Fresh air allows our circulatory system to bring crucial oxygen to all the cells in our bodies. Indoor air can become stale, forcing our bodies to be limited to decreased oxygen and poor air quality. Choosing activities that bring us closer to oxygen-producing trees and plants supplies our bodies with an abundance of the fresh air our bodies need to maintain health.
Natural sunlight is the best way for our bodies to synthesize vitamin D, which is crucial for the processing of calcium to keep our bones strong. Although we need to protect our skin and eyes from sun damage, we also need some sun for the health benefits it provides. The sun also helps our brains avoid the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can contribute to depression, most common in the winter months when the days are shorter.
Spending time in nature also tends to help us escape the trap of spending too much time on our cell phones and computers. Our brains need time every day to unwind from all the “input” that tends to overwhelm us, including long work hours, stressful situations, and our never-ending to-do lists.
Planning activities outdoors also gives us opportunities to either socialize more or have some time alone. Most people need both to live a balanced life.
Here are some tips to help you embrace the great outdoors to reap the health benefits:
Dress for the weather. Check the forecast and dress accordingly. Many people dislike the cold months because they don’t want to be uncomfortably cold, which is totally understandable. Dressing in layers also helps you adjust easily, so you’re not too warm or too cold.
Wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the dangers of the sun, even in the winter. As with most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to spending time in the sun. Applying sunscreen can help you avoid a winter sunburn and lower your risk of skin cancer.
Choose activities you enjoy or new ones you want to try. People who love winter tend to embrace winter activities they love, such as skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Is there a new activity you can try this winter to entice you to spend more time outdoors? Even simple activities such as walking, sledding, or making a snowman can help you avoid being indoors for extended periods of time.
Stay hydrated. Even during the cold months, we lose fluids through sweating and need to replace what we’ve lost. Hydrate year-round to maintain health.
Embracing nature, even through the cold winter months, can enrich your life and improve your health. What new activities will you try this year? As our parents used to tell us, go outside and have fun!
Carol Phillips is a national health and wellness expert, the award-winning author of 52 Simple Ways to Health, and the radio host of Ask Coach Carol. She helps companies significantly reduce costs and increase productivity through a new approach to wellness. Based in Manchester, N.H., she can be reached through her website at www.HealthDesignNH.com.