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7 Reasons to Exercise Outdoors All Year Long

by Dr. Sarah Cimperman, ND

As wesettle into winter, we tend to spend more of our active time indoors. We go tothe gym instead of the park. We take a spinning class instead of a long bikeride. We climb a machine instead of a mountain. Instead of walking on thebeach, we walk on the treadmill. Shorter days and colder temperatures do makeit more challenging to schedule outdoor activity, but it’s still as importantas ever. Here are seven reasons to exercise outside whenever you can.

#1 Cleaner Air

According to the Environmental Protection Agency,indoor is “more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest andmost industrialized cities.” Just one example is volatile organic compounds orVOCs. These chemicals are used in manufacturing and they escape in the form ofgases from thousands of different products including paint, carpet, buildingmaterials, office equipment, cleaning products, and fragrances found in airfresheners and scented candles. VOCs are up to ten times more concentrated inindoor air than outdoor air and studies show they can promote a range ofillnesses including metabolic changes associated with diabetes and even cancer.

#2Vitamin D

Upon exposure to sunlight, our skin turns cholesterolinto vitamin D, a key nutrient for several systems in the body including thecardiovascular, neurological, and immune systems. We can’t get too much vitaminD from the sun like we can from supplements, but we can get too much ultravioletradiation. The UV index is a scale that estimates the risk of harm that thesun’s rays can have on unprotected skin. It’s highest in the summer, especiallyin the middle of the day. In the winter, the UV index is lower and the sun’srays are safer, making it an ideal time to be outside.

#3Regular Rhythm

Besides stimulating the production of vitamin D,exposure to natural sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm. Proteinscalled cryptochromes that detect light’s blue spectrum are highly active in oureyes but they also exist in our skin and they give our bodies information aboutour environment. The light and dark cycles we’re exposed to dictate the dailyrhythm of our bodies, affecting everything from sleeping patterns and hormonelevels to the way we store fat. Our modern world is full of artificial lightthat sends the wrong message and the more we expose ourselves to outdoor light,the easier it will be to maintain a more natural circadian rhythm and a healthybody.

#4Stronger Eyes

Nearsightedness is a condition in which distantobjects appear blurred. Known also as myopia, it can be an inherited condition,when the eyeball is too long or too curved, or it can develop as we age, whenthe muscles we use for long-distance focusing become weak. People most at riskof developing nearsightedness are those who spend prolonged periods of timelooking at close objects, while reading or using computers and other electronicdevices. There is also an association of increased myopia risk with low levelsof vitamin D, so exercising outside helps your eyes in two different ways. Itgives you a boost of vitamin D and it’s a good opportunity to use your longdistance vision for a prolonged period of time. After all, your eyes needexercise too.

#5 AReal Break

People at the gym may be exercising, but they’re notalways taking a break. While they walk, jog, cycle, or climb, they’re busywatching television, shuffling work papers, or reading newspapers, magazines,books, and mobile electronic devices. Being active outdoors forces you to stopmultitasking and focus on the present moment, which is a form of mindfulness.Practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, strengthen memory andfocus, increase immune function, and improve emotional health and well-being.You can exercise anywhere, but doing it outside is engaging in a way thatindoor exercise just can’t duplicate.

#6Improved Sleep

A study published in Preventive Medicine foundthat having regular access to green spaces and other natural areas wasassociated with better sleep. Researchers studied data from the CDC’sBehavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System which surveyed more than a quarterof a million people. They found that those who had regular access to natureslept well most of the time. This group reported fewer than seven nights ofpoor sleep per month while people without regular access to nature slept poorlytwenty-one to twenty-nine nights each month. The association was strongest formen and for people 65 years and older, but other people benefitted too. Accessto nature isn’t the only factor affecting sleep quality, but it may be veryhelpful and there are no negative side effects.

#7Better Overall Health

Scientists believe that several factors work togetherto improve overall health in natural environments. Chemicals calledphytonicides, released into the air by plants to protect themselves againstbacteria and fungi, have been associated with better immune function in humansand lowered high blood pressure. Biodiversity in general and certainmicroorganisms in particular have also been shown to improve immune function.  The abundance of negative ions can helpresolve mood disorders like depression. The sights and sounds of nature havebeen found to improve attention and promote healing. They’ve also been shown todampen the fight-or-flight response and induce the relaxation response, making naturean ideal tool for stress management.

 Referencesare available upon request.

 Dr.Sarah Cimperman, ND is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in NewYork City and author of the book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Programto Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings(www.prediabetesdetox.com). Follow Dr. Cimperman on Facebook, Twitter and herblogs, A Different Kind of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet. Find her at at www.drsarahcimperman.com



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