Your idea of roughing it may be staying at a hotel with no room service. Your idea of unplugging may be visiting a coffee shop with no Wi-Fi. Not everyone needs to boat down the Amazon river or climb Mount Everest. But if you want to lead a healthy, productive life, you can’t do it all in the great indoors. You’ve got to get outside! A little sun on the skin, a little fresh air in the lungs, a little sand between the toes can do a lot more good than most modern folks realize. Science backs this up. Conversely, a little too much screen time, a little too much indoor pollution, a little too much comfort can silently sap your health.
Getting outside benefits virtually every system in your body. Here’s just a brief snapshot of what happens:
First of all, it gets us looking at things that are far away. This changes how the muscles in our eyes behave. Looking at something far away after spending hours and hours up close with walls and screens is like your eyeballs stretching their legs after a long car ride. The longer you stay in the car, the more likely your legs and low back will cramp up. Tension headaches are often caused by similar mechanisms in the muscles that support eye movement and focus, including muscles in the upper neck and skull.
Second, real light from the sky helps us regulate our circadian rhythms. Sunny blue skies and peaceful glowing sunsets communicate profoundly with our hormones and neurotransmitters to promote deep sleep and energetic wakefulness. Replace it with an endless barrage of LEDs and our bodies get confused.
Third, modest amounts of sunlight interact with our skin to help our bodies produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is notoriously hard to regulate with nutrition and/or supplements, but get out in the sun and the body knows what to do.
Fourth, good bacteria in healthy ecosystems help communicate with good bacteria in our bodies. We are not made to live in sterile environments. At some point, modern humans became convinced that every surface we touch should be bleached and sterilized. The absence of bacteria can actually be just as harmful as an environment full of bad bacteria. The real trick is to expose your body to the bacteria in healthy ecosystems. Don’t go drinking the water from an LA aqueduct. Do go out to a national park or similar protected area and be an advocate for these places before they’re all gone. Additionally, an organic home garden is a great place to create your own healthy ecosystem, complete with healthy bacteria. Get your hands dirty!
Fifth, when it comes to indoor air quality, it’s hard to beat the power of an open window and a breeze. You might think that your carpets, walls, and furniture don’t matter. The dust they shed is certainly not as bad as asbestos, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely inert. Of course, most of us intuitively know we feel better after something as simple as “getting some fresh air.” So, why do we spend so much time inside and immersed in technology?
It’s simple. We prefer a sense of control and consistency to a sense of wonder and trust. We feel safe around doors that we can lock. We feel comfortable in air that is climate and humidity controlled. We feel powerful in man-made environments because, well, we made them.
There's nothing wrong with spending our time in places we’ve made more hospitable, but we must not lose what the world beyond our buildings offers us. There is a reason we have phrases like “the sky’s the limit” and “professional ceiling.” If we want to be interesting, innovative people, we must take breaks from our ceilings and spend time under the infinite sky.
We are losing our connection with the natural world. Kids chop down trees in Minecraft instead of climbing them. In Yosemite, you’ll behold teenagers with their heads buried in their cell phones instead of looking up at the mountains. Adults live, work, and even exercise indoors. As technology has advanced and beckoned us to stay glued to screens, our well-being has deteriorated. Yet, when we get outside and connect with nature, we see an immediate positive impact on our mood and health.
There is a growing misconception that it’s cleaner and safer to stay inside, that the sun instantly causes skin cancer, and that all bacteria cause disease. The truth is quite the contrary. We often pollute our indoor environments without realizing it. Just think about asbestos. It’s not hard to imagine that in 20 years we’ll be ripping something else out of half our buildings that was discovered to be toxic. Our bodies receive vital communication from the rays of the sun, the air across our face from a steady breeze, and dirt directly on our feet. Connection with nature can help alleviate depression and anxiety. So, do yourself a favor: Get outside!
"Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the ... - NCBI - NIH." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/. Accessed 27 May. 2020.