Feeling tired and sluggish? Rundown and anxious? Maybe even a little depressed? Although your first thought may be to check in with your doctor, it turns out that a special pill or diet may not be what you need to feel better – you might just need to go outside.
Get Your Vitamin D(irt)
Researchers have recently discovered that exposure to certain bacteria in the soil actually trigger the production of serotonin, the “happiness” brain chemical: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6509781.stm
But it’s not just about feeling better, it’s about actually being better. Because not only does serotonin make you feel good, it helps keep you healthy, as well. Research shows that there’s a direct link between serotonin and immune function, with indications that this happy-making neurochemical helps trigger healthy immune responses. (However, you can get too much of a good thing. There’s evidence that serotonin-boosting antidepressants can over-stimulate the immune system, leading to autoimmune issues. Something to ponder if you’re considering the Rx route.)
The Effect of Sunlight on Moods
It’s common knowledge that exposure to sunlight has a direct, measurable affect on your moods. That’s why locations far to the north and south (where winters are long and dark) have higher rates of suicide. As it turns out, it’s all comes back to our good friend serotonin. Exposure to sunlight increases your production and uptake of serotonin, resulting in better moods and better health.
Nature Deficit Disorder
Popularized by author Richard Louv, Nature Deficit Disorder refers to the tendency of modern life to become more and more oriented around indoor activities. As a result, Louv says, people are becoming isolated from each other and losing the sense of wonder and connectedness that comes from being outdoors. On a more scientific note, research shows that exposure to natural surroundings can measurably reduce hyperactivity and produce feelings of calm and relaxation. Is it the “happy bacteria” in the soil, the negative ions and oxygen produced by plants or something else? Science hasn’t quite caught up to those answers yet. But, just like your Game Boy or Blackberry, you don’t need to know how something works to get the benefits of using it. And unlike your electronic toys, nature never crashes or needs new batteries.
Going outside feels good and is good for you (once you get past the trauma of being more than 10 feet from the nearest electrical outlet, of course). Don’t let cyberspace relationships, 8-to-late work hours and piped-in entertainment keep you from reaping the benefits of the outdoors. Like your mother said, you need to go outside for a while.
Go on. Scoot!