The days are getting shorter where I live. We will be turning the clocks back in less than two weeks. This, combined with dropping temperatures, will begin the slow hibernation into winter. It is common to begin to hunker down and spend more time indoors this time of year. However, as I can personally attest to, spending too much time indoors is not good for your health.
Last year I started a new job which left me working very long hours and almost no time outside. Because of this, I had to rearrange my exercise to 5am – and it was dark out. For safety’s sake, I moved my workouts indoors. Historically, my favorite part of the season involved running outside in the fresh, brisk air and getting some natural daylight. No longer being outside during my exercise sessions left me rarely outside during the coldest, darkest part of the year. And I felt it. My mental health was as bad as it has ever been. That is why I am vowing to make sure that I get at least two hours outdoors each week over the next several months.
Why two hours? We have known for a long time that being outdoors has health benefits. From reducing stress and blood pressure to improving sleep and reducing health risks, exposure to nature can improve quality of life. Recently, a more specific recommendation regarding outdoor time has come about based on the findings of a large British study. It is the first to look at the “dose-response” factor. In other words: how much exposure to nature (i.e. what dose of nature) do I need in order to get a positive health response? This research finds that people who spend at least two hours a week in a natural environment — like parks, beaches, woodlands or urban green spaces — are more likely to have better physical health and psychological well-being than those who do not. In some countries, physicians are now prescribing two hours of time spent outdoors in nature the same way they are prescribing doses of time to exercise.
So, given this new information, I am going to keep track of this. I certainly hope I am able to get more than two hours spent outdoors each week over the next five months. I deal with SAD and I didn’t realize how much my outdoor exercise had helped me survive the harsh winter months in Michigan – until I didn’t do it last winter! You may want to consider starting to track your time spent outdoors as well to see if you may benefit from a little more time spent in the great outdoors.