The great outdoors

By Haneen Ali. Haneen is from London, UK. Read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Research shows that the average American adult spends 93% of their life indoors or in a vehicle. And Brits aren’t exactly embracing the great outdoors either, at 92%. Nowadays, even children aren’t much better, as 1 in 2 kids worldwide spends less than an hour a day outside – half as much as prison inmates.

Clearly, getting outdoors is beneficial for our health, for obvious reasons like staying active. But the rich variety of ways in which simply breathing in fresh air can improve our lives might just surprise you. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the concentration of some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, is often much higher indoors than outdoors. Fresh air, on the other hand, can clean your lungs, as it helps the airways of your lungs to dilate more fully. When you exhale and breathe out through your lungs, you release airborne toxins from your body. Fresh air helps you to think better and increases your energy level, as it brings more oxygen to your brain.

While it’s true that increasing ventilation is a simple answer to problems like pollution, it’s best for your health to get outside a little bit every day, as the benefits stretch far and beyond the air. For example, it can help us tackle vitamin D deficiency – which, due to lack of natural sources of vitamin D in food, and time spent in direct sunlight – is now recognised as a pandemic. Time outdoors is also good for our eyes. The more time we spend looking at a screen, the more likely we are to suffer from dry eye syndrome. Letting the eyes focus on something more distant exercises different muscles and allows the eyes to relax and recover, and getting outside is a great way to do this.

It’s not all about our physical health, though. Spending time outdoors comes with a whole slew of benefits that affect our mental health, too – a notable example is one you’ve probably already experienced: stress relief. If you’re stressed out at home or in the office, it’s amazing what a quick walk outside can do for you. Science backs this up too – a 2009 study found that after taking nature walks, people reported lower levels of stress and depression, and follow-up studies have shown that walks outside actually do reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the blood. What’s more, the levels of the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain are increased with the amount of sunlight on any given day.

Personally, I think that getting outdoors is equally important for adults and children alike around the world. If adults spend more time outside, it will have a positive influence on the next generation and encourage them to entertain themselves without the help of an electronic device. If you’re stuck for ideas, consider picnics, bike rides, walks, or outdoor exercises and games. Although we’ve said goodbye to summer, these fun activities can be enjoyed (practically!) all year round. So what are you waiting for? Get out the door before winter arrives!

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