In 2011, a study by the EPA found that on average Americans spend 90% of their lives indoors. Our work, social and home lives are more often than not inside, and recent studies have found that it could be more harmful to our bodies than previously thought. It’s in our DNA to thrive in the outdoors; everything from our immune system, nervous system, mental stamina and mood are naturally heightened when we take a step outside.
Studies have shown the restorative properties on mental fatigue and attention makes a few minutes outside one of the best ways to increase concentration and creative output. This is the result of outdoor environments requiring an alternate type of attention. This change allows our minds to destress and recoup from the constant indoor focus.
As explored in a previous article examining the effects of indoor vs outdoor running on the body, there is increasing research to support claims exerting energy outdoors holds more benefits than indoor exercise. Recently, studies have started to look at outdoor exercise as a treatment for not only physical ailments but mental disabilities and nervous system disorders. The notion of ‘green exercise’ was adopted across many studies from 2003 onwards to explain the physical, mental and emotional benefits of exercise outdoors. The effects ‘green exercise’ is occurring on psychological, biochemical and social levels, further suggesting the role of the outdoors in the treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation from disease.
Being indoors too often can also have a serious effect on your mood and mental stability. More and more research is linking a Vitamin D deficiency from a lack of sunlight to a reduction in serotonin made by the brain. Serotonin is an incredible hormone that’s responsible for the balancing of moods in healthy people. Its importance is so crucial that a lack of said hormone is linked with depression, anxiety, stress and even some eating disorders.
More often than not, people avoid the outdoors during cold or rainy periods in an attempt to avoid catching a cold. But, this isn’t the reason colds or cases of the flu increase by up to 20% in winter months. We catch colds because, during these months, we spend most of our time indoors exposing ourselves to higher concentrations of airborne pathogens. Maintaining long periods of indoor activity has been proven to increase your risk of illness, and prolong your recovery time from the common cold.
So, we know being indoors for long periods can be harmful to your immune system, but what happens to it outdoors? The continued failure of health markers within the Japanese population has encouraged research into their lifestyles, habits and environment. Along with a number of environmental issues in Japan, scientists have focused on the effects long periods indoors can have on the immune system. Their findings? Within a one-day trip to a dense forest, patient’s immune activity increased significantly and stayed heightened for a week post trip.
From artificial lighting altering your body clock, to higher risks of illness due to the circulation of pathogens, to Vitamin D deficiencies caused by the lack of sunlight, being indoors can have some major effects on your body, mind and mood. Doctors suggest being outdoors for a minimum of 15 minutes a day, with positive effects starting in as little as the first 30 seconds of exposure.