According to the EPA, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors. Ninety-three percent! That is crazy! Yes, it’s hot in Alabama right now, but we as humans need to be outside. Our health depends on it. Not only is time indoors keeping us from connecting with the outdoors, but it also has its own detrimental effects. Being indoors usually means being under artificial lights, spending time on electronic devices, and sedentary behavior. The average American spends about 11 hours a day in front of some type of electronic device.
Artificial light has been linked to a shift in visual acuity toward nearsightedness. It is also associated with decreased production of serotonin (one of our “feel-good” hormones, and an important hormone for regulation of circadian rhythms). Our bodies get much of our vitamin D through chemical reactions that take place on our skin. These reactions require sunlight. Artificial light does not serve this same function, and thus time indoors can lead to vitamin D deficiency—a problem plaguing more and more Americans today. Low vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, depression, insomnia, immune compromise, and many other issues.
Indoor air has its problems as well. It typically contains 2-5 times higher concentrations of common air pollutants, and excess time indoors has been associated with an increased risk for heart and lung disease, cancer, bronchitis, asthma, and allergies.
Use of electronic devices is perhaps the worst outcome of being indoors. Real-time brain scans have shown completely different patterns of brain activity when using an electronic device. This altered brain activity closely resembles those patterns typically seen in patients with ADHD, autism, and even Alzheimer’s. Electronic devices also tend to overstimulate the same areas of the brain, which leads to mental fatigue, increased cortisol (stress hormone), forgetfulness, and depression.
Just spending 1-2 hours outside can have huge health benefits. Movement outside often involves navigating uneven and unpredictable surfaces, which helps improve balance and reduces injury risk. I tell my runners with knee pain to hit the trails instead. This change alone can make a huge difference. It’s not so much the difference between the softer dirt and harder pavement as much as it is the increased cerebellar (part of your brain that handles balance and complex movements) stimulation and core activation
Being outside helps your brain too. Studies have demonstrated boosts in memory and attention skills by as much as 20% after spending time outdoors. The outdoors also provides a great environment for creativity (studies show a 50% increase in creativity) and meditation. Being in nature alters brain wave patterns, increasing those associated with meditation. So if you are having trouble finding your inner peace indoors there is an explanation.
So find a way to get outside. You don’t have to spend hours and hours outside. You can do it in little patches. Eat a picnic lunch, combine exercise and outdoor time, take the scenic route, roll the windows down, go barefoot. Use your creativity. And if all else fails, bring the outdoors in: bring plants into your indoor space, play nature sounds in the background on your audio device, go to your outdoor place via meditation.
Mid to late morning sun is best for balancing vitamin D synthesis, boosting serotonin and avoiding overexposure. And yes, it’s hot outside, but if you exercise, you’re going to sweat anyway. So exercise outside! Then that jump into a creek or swimming hole somewhere after will feel that much better. You’ll see an increase in your mood, your sleep quality, physical agility and so many other aspects of your life.