I'm sick of kids and their video games.
I don't have anything against the games, per se. A few hours a week of video games improves skills like problem-solving. But too many young folks spend far too much time hunched over a screen or controller, shut off from the outside world.
Last year, a U.K. poll found that kids now spend about twice as much time playing indoors as they do outdoors. And kids aren't the only ones huddled up inside. According to a study sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we spend around 90% of our time either indoors or in our vehicles.
That's simply too much time cooped up indoors and away from fresh air and sunlight.
This is especially true given a new study published this month by the U.K.'s University of Exeter Medical School. Researchers found that spending a minimum of two hours a week in nature was associated with improved health. This included spending time in greenspace in the city, a local park, or even a personal garden.
Now, remember that association studies don't prove cause and effect. We initially wondered if folks who spend more time indoors are also ones with poor health anyway... It's hard to get outside if you're suffering from chronic pain or illness. But the researchers took this into consideration for their analysis and found the improvement in health affected folks regardless of these factors.
More important, the study follows what we've known for years – spending time outside in nature improves our physical and mental health. That's because we know fresh air in a natural setting has less mold and pollution, sunlight boosts our vitamin D, and getting away from screens helps lower our stress levels.
For example, we wrote about a 2017 study that had similar results. The paper, published in Current Biology, showed that going camping for a week without electronics resets your body's internal clock and helps you sleep better.
In the study, volunteers spent a week outdoors without any electronic devices or artificial lights. After several days, the participants found themselves going to bed earlier and got up earlier as well. They had effectively reset their sleep schedules... Better still, they were more alert and better-rested as a result.
Don't have time for a weeklong trip? The study also found that just a weekend of camping – without electronics – provided similar benefits. The study's senior author, Dr. Kenneth Wright, added that light exposure was the biggest factor. So the more you enjoy natural light, the better – and more awake – you'll feel.
Natural light doesn't just help reset our internal clocks. Sunlight also creates vitamin D in our skin.
Remember, vitamin D produced by the body from sunlight is important in preventing several diseases – such as multiple sclerosis and depression. It's also associated with lower rates of pancreatic cancer... one of the deadliest cancers out there. There's even evidence that sun exposure lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. A study in Sweden even found that people who spent more time outdoors in the sun lived longer.
We know that spending time in the sun boosts our endorphins, making us feel happy and calm. That's important in an age of increasing anxiety, depression, and overall stress levels.
I encourage my readers to go out and spend time in the sun... in fact, it's on my list of top health tips every year.
When I go out for longer than my usual 20-minute lunchtime walk, I practice common sense to avoid sun damage. For instance, I avoid going out too long between about 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the hottest part of the summer or on very sunny days.
If you do go out then, wear a hat, particularly a wide-brimmed one. That helps protect the sensitive parts of your face, ears, and neck. Invest in cover-ups, hats, and light jackets for the summer, too. Some companies like Land's End and Quiksilver even make sun-protective swim shirts.
And always wear sunglasses. Sun exposure damages your eyes, including promoting cataract development.
Also, if you have a family history of skin cancer, take extra precautions. That includes checking yourself for skin cancer and going every few years for a skin cancer screening. Make sure you keep an eye on any strange moles and marks. You can read up on the ABCDEs of skin cancer right here.
Don't become part of this growing "Indoor Generation"... Take the proper precautions, get outside, and enjoy yourself. Just taking two hours a week to unplug and enjoy the beauty of nature will go a long way toward improving your health and happiness.
What We're Reading...
- Something different: Could milking scorpions help kill MRSA?
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 27, 2019