While the rest of the country enjoys red autumn leaves falling from trees, Floridians experience fall a little differently. Instead of bundling up indoors, we move outside to enjoy the drop in humidity and lower temperatures.
That’s why this season, Florida Medical Clinic encourages you to spend more time outdoors! To get you motivated, we’d also like to share three benefits of the outdoors that you may not have known about.
Benefit #1. Sunshine helps build healthy bones and teeth.
You’ve heard calcium is essential for bone health, but do you know why Vitamin D is just as important?
Our bodies use vitamin D to build strong bones and teeth by helping us absorb calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D can also help build muscle strength, which can potentially prevent falls and injuries. Not getting enough vitamin D can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis as you age.
Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies produce it naturally when we’re exposed to sunlight. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic currently recommend that adults get between 600 and 2,000 IU of vitamin D per day. To reach your daily amount, spend 15 minutes in the sun each day, eat foods rich in vitamin D, or ask your doctor about taking a nutritional supplement.
Long-term unprotected exposure to the sun’s UV rays can be more harmful than helpful so if you’re spending more than 15 minutes outside, remember to wear sunscreen with plenty of SPF and reapply it every 2 hours. Even on cloudy days with cooler temperatures, it’s still important to protect your skin from UV rays.
Benefit #2. Time spent outside improves our mental health.
From phone notifications to heavy traffic, modern life can be pretty stressful. Lots of stress is connected with high levels of cortisol, which is called the “stress hormone.” One study of over 2,000 people found higher cortisol levels were associated with poorer performance on tests of memory, attention, and visual perception.
Being outside can help with some of the stresses of modern life, particularly if your demanding career has you staying indoors and seated most of the day. Even short amounts of time spent outside can reduce cortisol, lower blood pressure, and help ease feelings of anxiety or depression. Spending time with others outdoors can also help us feel more connected to our community and reduce feelings of social isolation.
For those with mobility restrictions who find it difficult to leave the house, even spending some time sitting at a window can benefit mental health and well-being.
Benefit #3. Natural light helps us sleep better.
Our bodies need a good night’s rest to be healthy. Sleep helps us recharge physically and mentally and stay alert during the day. Adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night, and kids under 18 need even more than that. A lack of sleep is linked with many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
Being outdoors and exposed to natural sunlight can help alleviate insomnia and make sleeping easier. That’s because natural light is good for our circadian rhythms, which are our bodies’ natural sleep-wake cycles. As part of these cycles, our brains naturally produce a hormone called melatonin, which makes us sleepy.
In the morning, sunlight signals to our brains that it’s time to stop producing melatonin and wake up. As the sun goes down, our bodies make more natural melatonin, which makes us tired. Being outdoors can help regulate the production of melatonin and make it easier to fall asleep.
Blue light from screens can disrupt our melatonin production and circadian rhythms, which is why it’s best to put devices away 2 hours before bedtime.
Plus, being active at least 30 minutes a day can help you sleep better that night. That makes exercising outdoors a great option for those looking to sleep easier.
Ideas for Outdoor Activities
Need some inspiration for how to spend your time outside? Here are a few ideas from the Florida Medical Clinic team:
- Go for a walk. A simple 30-minute walk each day can boost your mood, relieve stress, and help decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated or require long sessions at the gym—just moving more and sitting less can have substantial health benefits.
- Take meditation outside. Ever thought about spreading out a yoga mat or blanket on the grass while you meditate? One review found that practicing meditation and mindfulness outdoors had positive impacts on people both physically and mentally.
- Spend time with friends or family. Take your grandkids to the park, toss a Frisbee with your kids, or go on a bike ride together with a friend. If you want to fully celebrate the fall season, head to a pumpkin patch or local Tampa farmers’ market.
- Enjoy the sun and surf. One of the best parts of Florida living is always being close to the beach. If you’re here in Tampa Bay, consider spending an afternoon at Clearwater Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, or Honeymoon Island State Park. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
- Grow something. If you aren’t an experienced gardener, planting an herb garden is a great way to start working with your hands and bring fresh flavors into the kitchen. Chives, lettuce, cilantro, and parsley enjoy cooler temperatures and shade. For a challenge, try planting tomatoes, basil, and marigolds in a sunny spot.
- Camp, canoe, or kayak. Florida is famous for our beaches, but don’t forget about nature trails, camp spots, and freshwater rivers that are perfect for canoeing. Check your local campground or nature preserve to see if they offer canoe rentals.
- Have a Thanksgiving picnic. Eating outdoors is a great way to spend time with family safely. Try having Thanksgiving on the lawn or at the park this year—and check out our blog all about Turkey Day picnics to help plan your feast!
This season, don’t be afraid to be young at heart! Remember when you went outside just to play? Capture that feeling again. Go to a local park without a real plan. Wander around your neighborhood and see what happens. Take your children or grandchildren with you, and see what you can discover together.
Tell us how you like to spend time outdoors!
P.S. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health! If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, schedule an appointment with a mental health expert from our Psychiatry & Behavioral Health department.
P.S.S. Allergies acting up with all of this outdoor activity? Talk to an allergy expert and find out how to get coughing and congestion under control.