Self-Care: Get Outside

Yesterday was one of those truly magnificent days. It was the first really nice day we have had in months and I spent the whole day outside with my 5-year-old daughter. In this part of the world, we have been not so patiently waiting for spring. Yet winter drones on. We are expecting “rain/snow mix” tomorrow, so I have no regrets about having forgotten all of my responsibilities and played hooky yesterday.

You see, self-care isn’t always a spa day or an extensive morning routine. Self-care is what you need to support yourself right now. Maybe you need a few deep breaths to calm yourself down in traffic. Maybe a nap is in order, or a walk outside. Maybe just sitting quietly for a few minutes with a cup of tea is what you need. It doesn’t have to be the same things all of the time. Maybe you need to shake things up. Self-care for me yesterday was forgetting all the things I was supposed to do and spend the day outside hanging out with my little girl.

Can a person OD on fresh air? We may have. Especially since it was the first really nice day since fall. We must not have been used to inhaling such high octane freshness or soaking in the sun for the whole day, because we all (the dogs included) slept like the dead last night. I expect an amazingly productive day today.

When was the last time you got outside for an extended period of time? I highly recommend that you add it to your self-care routine for summer. What is it about getting outdoors that is good for the body, mind, and spirit? It’s like spring cleaning for the whole body…getting cobwebs out of corners and such.

Actually, being outside is better for you than you may realize. You know it makes you feel good, but did you know why? Here’s the geeky part:

Being outside allows microbiota exchange. Not only do we have a microbiome in our gut, but one in our respiratory system and on our skin as well. It is important for our health to add probiotics to both. The more diverse our population of microbes is, the better. So, make a point to get out into environments you have never been in before. Forests are awesome. Bonus points if it is a national park or protected space that has been largely untouched. Take your kids. They can benefit from greater microbial diversity as well, and time in the outdoors cultivates their appreciation of the outdoors. A little exercise won’t hurt, either. Get dirty!

You know the feeling when you’ve been in a closed room with a bunch of people for an extended period of time and then you finally get a breath of fresh air? It’s like the life returns to you, right? You just want to gulp it in. I always thought it was because of a lack of oxygen. Like we were breathing each other’s air. Which is kind of true, but the main reason fresh air is so great is the negative ions it contains. You know that fresh feeling the air has after a thunderstorm or how the air feels at the beach? That is the negative charge of the air. It’s invigorating! Negative ions literally clean the air by attaching to positively charged airborne contaminants, like pollution and allergens, and weighing them down so they are no longer airborne. Electronics, chemicals from furniture, clothes dryers, and air conditioning can all raise the positive charge in the air, so airing out your house is important, too.

Speaking of negative ions, getting outside can also literally recharge us. Stepping onto the grass in your bare feet allows our bodies to ground electrically. This is a good thing. It is the ultimate antioxidant. All you have to do is walk around in the grass for 20 minutes or so to recharge your life. This is a fantastic jet lag hack, by-the-way. Traveling for long periods on a plane can not only mess up your circadian rhythm and sense of time, but you walk out of that plane full of positive ions. Find a park or some other place with grass on the ground, take your shoes off, and walk around, or better yet do some yoga on the bare ground. Increase negative ions for a positive mood!

Being in the natural light resets our circadian rhythm and of course, stimulates vitamin D production. These days we don’t get nearly the amount of sun we need. Most of us are afraid of the sun’s harmful rays, but there are so many good things about unfiltered sun exposure that we miss out on if we stay in the shade. Get outside first thing in the morning to reset your circadian clock. Your sleep-wake pattern runs in about a 12-hour cycle. Getting outside first thing ensures you will be winding down for bed 12 hours later.

Sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for immunity. It is one of the reasons we get our worst illnesses in the winter. It is also important for improving your mood and general outlook on life. Again, the reason we are depressed in the winter. Supplements are fine, but getting it the way nature intended is always preferable. We need sunlight for survival, but of course, be sensible. If you are pale skinned like me you want to get your sun exposure early in the day or late in the afternoon. Limit your exposure in the hours around noon. Soaking up the sun is good. Burning is bad.

Do you have a forest nearby? Get out for a hike. Not only will you get the benefits of exercise, fresh air, and sunlight, if you are hiking in a forest with evergreen trees, you get the benefit of the trees’ aromatic phytoncides. These chemicals increase Natural Killer cells, your immune system’s lead defense against viruses and disease. Plus, forest bathing decreases stress and increases cognitive function. My little girl is looking forward to many nature adventures this summer. Forests are awesome places for kids to learn about the world around them.

So, self-care can be as easy as getting outside. If you live in a city where you deal with pollution on a daily basis, it is even more important for you to get out into a natural environment periodically. Go for a walk, have an outing with your family, or experience the beach. Self-care doesn’t have to be an elaborate ritual. It can be anything you need it to be at this moment.

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

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