If you live with a chronic illness or mental health condition, going outside in rainy, hot, or cold weather can be a challenge, but it has proven health benefits.
Growing up, me and my cousins were always told to go and play outside. At the time, I thought it was just the adults trying to get us out of the house but, with hindsight, I can appreciate there was more to it. “Get some fresh air,” and “The sun’s shining, go outside for some vitamin D,” were phrases I’d hear without realizing the physical and mental benefits of being outdoors.
When my anxiety is at its worst, my default is to stay safely indoors. Curling into a ball while hiding under the duvet becomes an appealing prospect and moving to the sofa with a book and a blanket feels like a mammoth task. On days like this, being outside is a chore, but I always try to venture at least as far as the back doorstep. Here’s why.
Fresh Air Really Does Help
Whether you allow yourself a moment to purposefully inhale or spend hours walking a coastal path, being in fresh air is good for the soul. This form of mindfulness can be calming and grounding, and developing a heightened awareness of the environment surrounding us – including the air – can soothe a troubled mind.
In the UK, doctors can prescribe patients with depression, anxiety, or low mood two hours a week in nature, either instead of or alongside medications or talking therapies. This follows studies showing that being outside has a positive impact on both physical and mental well-being by reducing stress levels and lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
A Ray of Light
Vitamin D is essential, particularly for anyone who is prone to illness. As people with chronic diseases may have weaker immune systems and less ability to fight infections, it is especially important for them to keep their vitamin D at optimum levels.
Although vitamin D is present in certain foods and available in supplement form, the sun is the best source. When ultraviolet B rays meet the cholesterol cells in the skin, vitamin D is produced. On hot sunny days, just 10 minutes of sun exposure can boost vitamin D levels significantly. This is good news for people with conditions such as allergies and asthma, as research shows vitamin D levels increased through healthy sun exposure can reduce symptoms. For anyone with gut conditions such as colitis or celiac disease, vitamin D can improve nutrient absorption.
The sun can also make people feel happier due to the body producing more serotonin, making it a wonderful mood-booster. Arthritis and other joint and muscle pain can also be eased through exposure to heat, so make the most of those sunny days and allow nature to work its magic! And when it’s just too cold to go out, or you’re in the dreary season, a SAD lamp can help stave off seasonal depression.
Rain vs. Pain
Western culture has often painted rain as an inconvenience, yet there are health benefits to spending time in the rain. Rain is nature’s way of cooling down and regulating body temperature, which can be useful during menopause or for combating medication-induced sweats.
The sound of rain has therapeutic qualities similar to white noise that are known to calm troubled minds, and the scent of rain (petrichor) also increases relaxation, which is why taking a walk during a shower can improve a person’s mental state.
Blow the Cobwebs Away
Time outside in the wind can be invigorating, but there are other health benefits to venturing outdoors during windy weather. During the pandemic, scientists found that transmission of COVID-19 was lower during high winds as germs were dispersed more rapidly. This means blustery weather is good news for anyone with lower immunity as there is less risk of contracting illness.
Exposure to wind has also been shown to increase lung capacity, making breathing easier and increasing the amount of oxygen delivered to the brain, which helps concentration and focus.
Let It Snow
If you struggle with physical pain during the winter, spending time in the snow might not be your first choice. However, studies show that cold temperatures boost levels of the chemical norepinephrine, which reduces aches and pains.
You may also find that time in freezing conditions kick-starts your body in the same way as an ice bath/cold water therapy, reducing inflammation by narrowing blood vessels and making you feel more alert.
You know your body better than anyone else and how it responds to weather conditions, but getting outside could be a simple way to feel better. From your balcony to the beach, time outside has been shown to positively affect health and well-being, so consider whether increasing outdoor activity could improve your quality of life.