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What simple lifestyle change can help you sleep better, see better, and feel happier?

Spend More Time Ourside - Wellness Challenge 12 Can you guess the answer? It is spending more time outside! Keep reading to learn why.

In Dr. Jamie’s recent post titled "Move More - Move Better", I noticed that her suggestions (walking, hiking, gardening, etc) not only were to move, but to move OUTSIDE. 

In general, the current generation spends less time outside than previous generations. This is one of many factors contributing to the decline of health in modern people. 

How Does Being Outside Affect Your Health?

Sleep

Think about days where you are outside most of the day. You may have worked hard hiking in the woods or relaxed at the beach with friends. Either way, at the end of the day, you felt tired and probably had a great night’s sleep.  This correlation between a good night’s sleep after being outside all day is not a coincidence.  Our body’s circadian rhythms are how our bodies know what time it is.   They let the body know when it’s time to wake up and when it’s time to sleep. 

The most important factor controlling circadian rhythms is exposure to light.  The natural light from outside is different from indoor light.  To properly set the rhythms of your body, you need to spend time in natural light during the day and avoid unnatural light at night.  By doing so, your body will naturally fall into the rhythm of nature and be ready to awake when the sun rises and be winding down when the sun sets. This provides the best opportunity for quality sleep.

I can personally attest to these improvements. My goal has been to be outside with my 5 month old as much as possible when she is awake.  Once we developed this habit, her body almost immediately began a very regular sleep cycle and she’s been easily going to bed every night and sleeping great. 

Myopia (Nearsightedness)

When I was a kid, only a few of my classmates wore glasses.  Over the last couple of decades there has been a huge increase in myopia, specifically in industrialized countries.  In biomechanist, Katy Bowman’s book Move Your DNA, she says

“Research shows that cultures historically without books show an increase in nearsightedness once reading or other hallmarks of a “civilized” environment (like night-lighting) are introduced.  But more recent research specifically looking at reading shows that time spend outdoors might be the factor worth looking at instead.”

She goes one to talk about how the loads on your eyes changes depending on how far you are looking.  If you are inside most of the day, even if you aren’t looking at a book or screen, you only look 20-30 feet at most.  This close looking it causes the ciliary muscles in your eyes to contract.  If you spend too much time looking at short distance, it does not give your eyes the chance to create a different load by looking far distances.  The action of looking far away causes the relaxation of these tense eye muscles. Read more on myopia and the ciliary muscles.

General Well Being

In addition to these two specific examples, there are several studies that link being outside in nature to general overall health.  Being in nature has been found to restore your focus, help you relax, be great for your brain, and increase overall feelings of happiness.

What are some practical ways to add more outdoor time to your life?

  1. Eat outside!  You have to eat anyways, so why not eat outside.  It can be a quiet breakfast or cup of coffee on the deck in the morning, lunch at a park with a coworker, or a family dinner outside.
  2. Move outside!  Follow the examples in Dr. Jamie's previous post. Move More - Move Better. Instead of hitting the gym, spend more time moving outside in nature.
  3. Get a dog.  I realize this might not be for everyone, but since getting our dog a year and a half ago we go on so many more walks out of necessity for him and overall enjoyment for the whole family!
  4. Meet a friend outside!  Instead of meeting at the local coffee shop, find a park outside to chat, or take a walk instead.
  5. Take your phone calls outside!  When I have to make one of those phone calls where I expect to be on hold for many minutes, I try to make the call while going for a walk.  It makes the wait more enjoyable!

If you start paying attention to how much time you spend inside, you might be surprised. Use your ingenuity to figure out ways to get yourself outside.

Your challenge for the week: Try one or more of these ideas to add more outdoor time to your life.

Joelle Kurczodyna, NTP