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Health and Wellness: Three reasons you should prioritize outdoor time when the weather gets cooler

By Isabella Markert - Special to the Daily Herald | Oct 5, 2022

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Which camp do you fall into: the “please let summer end quickly so I can stop sweating” camp or the “it’s October — time to prepare for hibernation” camp? 

Whichever side you lean toward, we could all use the benefits of spending time outdoors, even when the temperatures start to dip below our comfort level. Going outside can help you make Vitamin D and prevent illness, lift your mood and improve brain function. Here’s how:

Prevent illness

When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces vitamin D, helping us fight off viruses. 

As researchers explain in Aging and Disease, “Vitamin D can play a role in regulating immune function, inhibiting inflammatory reactions and autoimmune diseases.” 

You may be thinking, “If I’m all bundled up, how is my skin going to get enough exposure to create this vitamin?” It’s true that it’s harder for us to make vitamin D in winter, with one study in Spain finding that “people met their vitamin D requirements with just 7 minutes of sunlight in July. But in January, they needed more than 2 hours of sun.”

If that doesn’t sound feasible or pleasant, don’t worry. Supplements and vitamin D-loaded foods — like salmon or orange juice fortified with vitamin D — can help. Going outside when it’s sunny can be just one part of your vitamin D regimen as you also gain the other benefits of going outside in the winter.

Lift your mood

Aptly known as SAD, seasonal affective disorder is a condition that causes depression during the low-sunlight winter period. A lack of serotonin may be to blame. 

Serotonin “contributes to feelings of happiness. If you’re at risk of SAD, you may already have less serotonin activity,” according to Clevland Clinic. “Since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, a lack of sunlight in the winter can make the situation worse. Serotonin levels can fall further, leading to depression.”

The good news is that getting sunlight can help. 

“The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes in through the eye,” said Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA, at healthline.com. “Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin.”

So go for a lunchtime walk, throw open your blinds and let yourself see the sun!

Improve brain function

An interesting study compared subjects who walked around an arboretum with those who walked around the city. The results? The arboretum-walkers’ memory and attention span improved by 20%, while those in the city group didn’t show any improvement.

You can experience similar results when you go on outdoor nature walks, even in the winter.

“People don’t have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits,” said Marc Berman, one of the researchers. “We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January. The only difference was that participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and summer than in the dead of winter.”

You don’t have to strap tennis racquets to the bottom of your feet and climb up the side of Maple Mountain; walking in a park or along a cleared river trail should do the trick!

Whether you’re ecstatic about the cooler weather or you’re already counting down until March, make time to get outside and into nature this fall and winter. Getting that important outdoor time can help you make vitamin D and prevent illness, lift your mood and improve brain function. Wrap up, choose an activity you like and get outside to experience the benefits.

Isabella Markert is a project manager at Stage Marketing, a full-service content marketing agency based in Provo.

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