By Sarah Stevenson
Sadly, we human beings tend to spend most of our lives indoors, breathing recycled, processed air and wilting away under florescent tubes almost 24/7. We trade the warm healing rays of the sun for synthetic lighting, not realizing what we’re doing to our bodies and our souls. The simple truth is, we were designed to spend time outdoors. The feeling of cool air on our body during the winter or warm sunlight on our face in the spring communicates important information to our genes so that our body can serve us better. It can tell us when to sleep and how to eat. That, in turn, balances hormones and increases healthy weight loss.
Spending time in nature helps reset circadian rhythms—also known as biochemical rhythms—that are responsible for secreting certain chemicals and enzymes inside the body within a 24-hour period. Our bodies need the light of day and the darkness of night in order to align properly. The suprachiasmatic nucleus that controls our circadian rhythms is right above the optic nerve, receiving the info it needs from the eyes. Here are just four ways keeping those rhythms in check will benefit you.
- A good night’s sleep: When sunlight is removed from our sight, the sleepy hormone melatonin begins to increase in our system and continues to be released until the sun reaches our eyes once again. This is how we get a good night’s sleep.
- Appetite control: The rising of our brilliant sun tells our bodies when to secrete cortisol and we then become hungry. When the sun sinks down into the horizon our bodies begin to slow down as well. The release of cortisone is decreased and we are no longer hungry so that we can hibernate for 6 to 8 hours at night.
- Mood boosters: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that seems to be related to the amount of sunlight people are exposed to. It is considered a “specifier of major depression” in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Not only can it flare up during the winter season, but spending too much time in synthetic light can give you the blues simply by not allowing enough exposure to sunlight. Researchers found that increased sun exposure boosts the level of the mood lifting neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain. Experts suggest going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun.
- Mental clarity: Running on a treadmill in a gym with headphones, with fans blasting and sweaty people everywhere is sure to help you shed some calories, but it may not clear your mind from stress. Why not take a walk at the beach or in a park? Going outside allows you to push the pause button on reality for a bit. The sun shines down on your face and clean fresh air fills your lungs. It’s a reality-based tapestry of beauty all there for the taking. In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers divided otherwise-healthy, equally-stressed individuals into two groups and sent them for a walk in 2 environments, the city and the forest. Cognitive tests were given to the participants once they returned from their stroll. Those who walked in nature had a greater ability to focus, retain information and solve problems. So head out for a walk in nature – and do yourself a favor, leave your smartphone at home.
Do you want a good night’s sleep tonight? Do you want a healthy appetite? Would you like to have a nice, balanced mood? If the answer to any of these questions is a YES then I highly suggest you step outside and take a nice brisk walk in the park or a beautiful bike ride at the beach…Trust me, it’s good for you.
- Cajochen, C., Krouchi, K. and Wirz-Justice, A. (2003), Role of Melatonin in the Regulation of Human Circadian Rhythms and Sleep. Journal of Neuroendocrinology, 15: 432-437.
- Beauchemin, K. M. & Hays, P. (1996) Sunny hospital rooms expedite recovery from severe and refractory depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 40, 49-51.
- Lam, R. W. (1998) Seasonal affective disorder: diagnosis and management. Primary Care Psychiatry, 4, 63-74.
- Lambert G.W., Reid C., Kaye D.M., Jennings G.L., Esler M.D. Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain (2002) Lancet, 360 (9348), pp. 1840-1842.
- The need for psychological restoration as a determinant of environmental preferences (2006) Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26 (3), pp. 215-226.
Sarah Stevenson, a.k.a., The Tini Yogini, is a Certified Yoga Instructor in Southern California. She has a degree in Behavioral Psychology and teaches not only yoga classes but also life affirming workshops. She also writes for Beachbody, which provides effective and popular workout videos, including the Insanity Workout, a high intensity interval training program for total body conditioning.