Grab a Coat: Outdoor Exercise Offers Health Benefits

I can’t believe that just a little over a month ago, I was still wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts when taking afternoon walks. For the past week, I’ve been wearing a wool hat, gloves, and a coat when heading outdoors. If it is raining, I also carry an umbrella.  No matter what the weather, I do try to take walks as often as possible because of the added health benefits being outdoors offers.

A Mood Enhancer

According to a Harvard Medical School article, spending time outside can lighten our mood, help us relax, and decrease depression. Let’s face it, this has been a hard year for all of us. We need all the help we can get when it comes to lifting our spirits. Also, natural scents in our environment may help us feel calmer and more relaxed. Although we are probably not going to enjoy the scent of many flowers right now, pine needles, dried grass, or other natural scents are all around us if we pay attention. I often walk around a local recreational pond area. Usually, I will see other walks and sometimes will stop and chat (from a safe distance) with others who are enjoying the outdoors. In fact, that’s how I met the person who will be featured in our December newsletter. (I know you’ll find his story inspiring and interesting too.) I generally walk at a pretty good clip to get my blood flowing. By the time I get home, I feel refreshed and upbeat. A Mentalfloss article reports that being outdoors can help support our immune system. “Scientists think that breathing in phytoncides—airborne chemicals produced by plants—increases our levels of white blood cells, helping us fight off infections and diseases.” Shorter days in the winter can “trigger” Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for those who are susceptible to it. People who experience this disorder may experience more anxiety, exhaustion, and sadness during the darker months of winter. According to the Mentalfloss article, getting outside could also lessen the effects of SAD. Being out in nature can help us regulate our emotions.  It can “increase our sense of gratitude and lower our stress levels. An invigorating walk—regardless of the weather—can help decrease our cortisol levels and thereby reduce levels. When I take walks, I try to pay attention to the sights and sounds around me. I live in an area where there is still a lot of wildlife. I often see wild turkeys, all kinds of birds, and occasionally a few deer. I appreciate the shapes and colors of trees, the smell of evergreens, and the ever-changing sky. When I allow myself to focus outward rather than inward, I feel a deep sense of gratitude. My challenge to you is to grab your coat, get outside, and soak up all that is waiting for you. Enjoy your life to the fullest. Each moment matters!  

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