The summer months are a wonderful time to enjoy the warm weather, spend time outdoors and refresh our bodies and minds. Whether you are working or on vacation, in the summertime there is always an opportunity to get out of the house or the office for a short break or a long stretch. Here’s why you should take advantage of these precious weeks outdoors when the days are long and the nights are cool.
Benefits for the body
It always seems easier to exercise when the weather is good. We don’t have to pack up our gear for the gym or sign up for a class. All we need to do is put on some athletic shoes and walk out the door! In summertime more than any other time during the year, it’s relatively easy to live up to those exercise recommendations we struggle with most of the time: exercise at least 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. Even if you are working all summer, most of us can find 30 minutes to take a walk during our lunch break and even more on the weekends. Make a daily appointment with yourself to take that walk and stick to it. For even more motivation, invest in a pedometer and shoot for 10,000 steps per day. Research has shown that using a pedometer is fun and motivating enough to encourage us to walk further than we usually do. If you can get a friend to walk with you, it will help to keep both of you motivated to get up and out each day.
When you do have extra time, try hiking, swimming or biking, all of which are excellent low-impact workouts. In fact, if you are recovering from an injury, swimming may be one of the best exercise options for you. If you are older than 50 or if you have any conditions that might affect your ability to exercise, check with us before starting any new exercise program. Once you’ve got the green light, explore your area a little: there are many opportunities to participate in outdoor activities in places with excellent terrain and an even better view.
If the weather is hot, be sure to drink lots of water along the way, wear light clothing and don’t forget the sunscreen. Your body will enjoy the vitamin D, which has been shown to help fight illness and keep your bones strong. Bring along a picnic and a friend, and make a day of it.
See our stretching guide for exercise.
Benefits for the mind
Getting outdoors has benefits far beyond the physical: natural light makes us happy! If you’ve heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), you know what we’re talking about. Also, in addition to giving us a break from work or our usual routine, some studies have shown that being exposed to natural light may help us heal faster from injuries and experience less pain and stress overall. More specifically, a 2005 study from the University of Pittsburgh showed that patients who had spinal surgery had less pain and needed fewer medications during recovery if they had been exposed to natural light.
Yet another study found that being outdoors may even help you concentrate better. Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed better focus after being outdoors – and you may too. Journalist Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” and wrote a book about the growing gap between children and their natural environment. He suggests that everyone needs to get more “green exercise” or “vitamin N” for an improved quality of life.
In addition to being an ideal opportunity for exercise, a quiet park or lake is an excellent place to relax, rejuvenate, or meditate. Green plants act as nature’s air filters, providing us with fresh oxygen as we enjoy their beauty and serenity. A meta-analysis performed by British researchers found that getting out and doing some light exercise in nature for just 5 minutes a day can significantly boost mood and self-esteem. Yoga and Tai Chi classes are commonly practiced outdoors in good weather, but even if that is too much activity for you, just bring a blanket and curl up for a nap under a tree.
If you’re not sure where to go or what to do outdoors this summer, the Internet is a valuable resource. Simply search for your town or city along with the words “outdoor activities” and a myriad of options will appear for you to peruse. For a more personal touch, ask your family, friends and neighbors who live close by for suggestions. Often we know about wonderful places to go but we don’t advertise them – until someone asks.
What is certain is that at the very least, you’ll enjoy a pleasant day outside, and you have the potential to gain significant physical and mental benefits as well.