Of course we're all about the outdoors here, but it goes beyond mere hobby or an obsession with hiking and camping. Being outdoors is good for you. It makes you happy. We're not just saying that, either -- there are actual, science-based reasons why being outside makes you happy and healthy. Here are five of those reasons.
1. Let's talk about vitamin D.
Vitamin D is hugely important for your health and happiness. In fact, the more researchers study vitamin D, the more benefits they unearth. A vitamin D deficiency contributes to osteoporosis, makes you more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, increases your risk for cancer, and makes asthma more severe. Furthermore, there is a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and depression. Researchers aren't sure if vitamin D deficiency contributes to depression or if depressed people suppress vitamin D levels, but what's certain is that people who suffer from depression have low levels of D in their bodies.
Not only does vitamin D deficiency impact our health and happiness, increasing our levels of D can turn around serious chronic health problems. For example, a Boston University study showed that people who had high blood pressure could completely reverse that health problem simply by increasing the amount of vitamin D they were getting. A study published in 2004 also showed that women who take multi-vitamins with D are 40 percent less likely to contract multiple sclerosis.
What is the best natural source of vitamin D? The sun! All these benefits of vitamin D can be gained just by getting outside. At this time of year, when the sun is starting to come back and the weather is beginning to warm up, spending a few minutes outside with your skin exposed to the sun is all you need to get your D. If you have fair skin, you're not using sunscreen, and you're wearing shorts and a tank top, a mere 10 minutes in the midday sun should do it. If you have darker skin or less skin exposed, you'll need to spend a little longer in the sun to get your dose of vitamin D.
What about worries over skin cancer? People with fair skin, after all, are also more likely to get skin cancer if they get too much sun. An epidemiologist from Australia, Robyn Lucas, already looked into that question and published her results a few years ago. Given all the drawbacks of vitamin D deficiency, she found that far more people die from lack of exposure to the sun than from too much sun.
2. Try to "lighten" your mood.
Speaking of the sun, there's another correlation between being outside and fighting depression that doesn't have anything to do with vitamin D. It's already well-known that people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called SAD or, colloquially, the winter blues) are impacted by the lack of sunlight that comes with the darker, colder months. Even just saying "dark, cold months" sounds depressing, doesn't it?
Research has shown that lack of sunlight reduces the amount of serotonin in our brains. Serotonin is critical when it comes to fighting depression, because it's the antidepressant that's already built into our bodies. When we increase the amount of sunlight we're getting, we naturally increase our serotonin levels.
3. But wait, there's more! More benefits of being in the sun.
As if the benefits of gaining more vitamin D and fighting depression weren't enough, there are far more benefits of spending time in the sun. Here's a quick run-down:
Sunlight may help to fight cancer and send it into remission.
Sunlight definitely helps children with ADHD to focus better, and it may also help with adults who suffer from similar problems.
Patients in a 2005 hospital study needed fewer painkillers and anti-anxiety medication after exposure to sunlight.
Being exposed to natural light during the day reduces sleeping problems at night.
4. And then there's exercise.
Besides the sun, there's something else that most people get when they are outside, unless they are lounging by the pool or the beach: exercise. It should go without saying that exercise is incredibly important for our health and our happiness. Outdoor exercise, as opposed to working out at a gym, has the added benefits of sunlight exposure and all the associated benefits listed above.
What's more, research suggests that we get a better workout when we're outside than when we're inside. According to a 2011 study, people who walked outside walked faster, perceived less exertion, and had more positive feelings than people who walked on a treadmill. Therefore, why hike on a treadmill when you could hike on an actual mountain?
5. Look around you at the natural beauty.
Perhaps learning that sunlight is important for us and that outdoor exercise is better for us than indoor exercise is not that surprising. On a certain level, we could all probably draw those same conclusions without the mounds of research that have been done. What we might not have guessed, however, is that even looking at the natural environment has been shown to improve mood. MRI scans in a study in South Korea showed that people who saw pictures of mountains, forests, waterfalls, and so forth stimulated the same parts of their brains that are responsible for happy feelings.
Another study showed that patients recovering from surgery would recover faster if they had a window with a view of something natural, like a tree, as opposed to a window with a view of something man-made, like a wall or a building.
How About Anecdotal Reasons?
The five reasons why being outside makes us happy that we've listed above are all based upon science and research. However, you might have your own reasons for why being outside makes you happy; what are they? Share your anecdotes about happiness in the great outdoors in the comments section below.