Bad weather, convenience, technology, laziness (!?); there are lots of reasons that many of us spend most of our time indoors. In fact, unless you actually seek out opportunities to go outside, it’s quite likely that you are indoors for all but a few minutes a day.
Cars, supermarkets, gyms, offices, our homes – there is almost no reason to head outside other than when we are moving from one of these places to another.
The thing is, spending so much time indoors is not especially healthy and while everyone needs shelter and warmth, we don’t need to be constantly under cover 24/7. It’s time to get out of the cave and roam the plains!
Getting outside more offers several important benefits…
1. Fresh air
If you spend a lot of time indoors, inevitably you end up breathing recycled air – either from the people you share your space with, your own exhalations or processed air from air-conditioning units. Most people know that fresh fruit and vegetables are healthier than their processed counterparts but very few people apply this same standard to the air they breathe.
Unless you live in an area of high pollution, you really should get outside and breathe some fresh air from time to time. It’s invigorating and stimulating and can even help you sleep. Exercising outdoors is also a much better choice than exercising indoors simply because of the availability of fresh air.
2. Vitamin D
While there are foods that contain vitamin D (liver, egg yolks, cheese, fish oil etc.) it’s much easier and cheaper to get your vitamin D from the sun. Sunlight contains ultraviolet radiation which causes the melanin in your skin to produce lots of lovey vitamin D. Many people are deficient in this essential vitamin which is very important for bone health, blood pressure control, and protection from multiple sclerosis, reduced risk of heart disease, improved mental function and prevention of diabetes.
Spending as little as 20-minutes per day outdoors can help you to get all the vitamin D you need although, if you live somewhere that is cloudy, you also need to make sure you eat plenty of vitamin D-rich foods.
3. Better sleep
Before there were clocks, man managed his time by the rising and setting of the sun. Our energy levels, both physical and mental, are regulated by something called the circadian rhythm which is inextricably linked to daylight.
In simple terms, our bodies expect to be awake and active during daylight and relaxed or asleep when it’s dark and spending so much time indoors in artificial lightening can disrupt this cycle leaving you tired in the day and unable to sleep at night.
Getting outdoors can help reset your personal circadian clock which will help normalize your sleep and waking cycles leading to more energy and greater productivity.
4. Functional fitness
A lot of the exercise we do in gyms is designed to simulate natural activities. For example, treadmills replicate walking and running outdoors and the leg press machine replicates bending your legs to squat down and pick something up off the floor.
The thing is, as advanced and cleverly designed as these machines are, they are pale imitations of the real thing and are nowhere near as effective or beneficial.
Take treadmills for example. When you walk outdoors, you use your muscles to propel you forward but when you walk on a treadmill, you simply have to keep up with a revolving belt. Walking or running on a treadmill does not use the same muscles as walking or running outdoors and will not produce the same results.
Yes, exercising on a treadmill is better than not exercising at all and you’ll be safe from the rain while being entertained by whatever music or TV channel is on in the gym but, exercising on a treadmill is akin to running on a hamster wheel. Interestingly, treadmills were once forms of prison punishment designed to pacify violent offenders and were connected to grinding mills which is where they get their name. Treadmills were literally a form of punishment!
History lesson aside, you’ll get a lot more from your workouts if you take them outside and do the “real” version of the gym-based activity.
5. Unplug from technology
Technology is great – without it you wouldn’t be reading this article after all. However technology is also a cause of stress and distraction for many people. Ringing phones, email bombardment, trying to find a Wi-Fi signal…all can be causes of stress.
Heading outdoors gives you an opportunity to take a break from technology and unplug. Like Neo in the Matrix, you’ll be amazed that life still goes on even if you aren’t connected to the internet! Heading outside provides the opportunity to grab some valuable “me” time, to recharge your mental batteries, to enjoy nature and decompress, all of which can enhance your health.
There is no need to turn your back on civilization and move outdoors full-time but spending at least a purposeful few minutes outside per day can be very rewarding. And please, don’t be that person who drives to the gym, goes in the elevator to the exercise suite and then proceeds to walk on a treadmill for an hour. Instead, walk outside in the real world and enjoy all of the benefits listed above.