Diet and exercise get most of the attention when it comes to living a long, healthy, most excellent life.
Did you know that spending time in nature also helps you look, feel, and perform your best?
First, let’s talk about the benefits of getting some sun.
Regular sun exposure may protect against colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer; non-Hodgkin lymphoma; hypertension; obesity; type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome; nonalcoholic fatty liver; multiple sclerosis; Alzheimer disease; and mental illness (1).
We typically think of vitamin D production as the primary way sunlight promotes health, but we’ve learned that immunomodulation, formation of nitric oxide, melatonin, and serotonin, and effects on our circadian clocks also play roles (2).
The optimal dose of sun exposure depends on skin pigmentation, latitude, and time of day and year, but you might start by exposing at least 50% of your body to the sun between the hours of 10 am and 1 pm, building up slowly to avoid burning (3, 4).
Let’s now talk about complementing all that sunlight with some shade.
“Forest bathing”, or mindfully experiencing forest environments, has been shown to improve cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, metabolic, immune and inflammatory, and antioxidant function; emotional state, attitude, and feelings; physical and psychological recovery; and anxiety and depression (5).
Forest bathing isn’t intended primarily as physical exercise, but rather moving through nature with presence and awareness, typically for a mile or less, for two to four hours, as a practice, not a one-time event (6).
Even spending time in public parks might help you increase your physical activity, improve your physical and mental health, maintain a healthy body weight, reduce stress and anxiety, and live longer (7).
You don’t have to make a grand effort or overhaul your life to get started.
Look for small opportunities to spend some time in nature.
When can you make just a few minutes to get outside?
Visit a local park or forest?
Take a walk before work?
Sit or lay in the sun?
Eat lunch outside?
Keep it simple.
Start where you are.
Do what you can.
Every step counts.
You’ve got this.