Benefits of stepping into the "green"

There are many things that have changed in our world over the past ten months. Somedays it feels difficult to think of a life without the pandemic.

When the pandemic hit the United States, the Summer was approaching and many of us had serious Spring fever. I happened to be one of the many that were itching to be outside in the sun!

Summertime is when the outdoors beckons us. We go to the beach in droves, have picnics, barbecues, surf, kayak, fish, and swim. Some hike, and others bike, and a few run-some do all! Outdoor times such as these are generally seasonal and not the daily norm.

With the pandemic having everyone in isolation, being in the “green” became the norm - we were gravitating to parks and the outdoors. Even places we gather to eat meals, exercise, and shop, moved their dining tables, exercise equipment and classes, and merchandise racks outside. Looking back, I am sure many of us didn't know the second half of 2020 would be more of the same.

Chances are when you step outdoors for a walk, hike, bike ride, or simply to sit on a park bench you feel revitalized, calm, your energy increases, and your stress reduces. If you noticed the shift in your mood, clarity, and experience overall happier feelings when being in nature, there are good reasons for that!

Spending time in Mother Nature may have more health benefits than you are aware of. Aside from being fun, research has shown that being outdoors is good for the mind, body, and soul.

Some of the benefits I am going to discuss may also be achieved by indoor means (with a bit more hassle and expense), but with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reporting that the average American spends 93% of their life indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations, then the shift towards outdoor living driven by the pandemic, maybe a trend we want to consider continuing into 2021.

Vitamin D Levels Rise

Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced endogenously in a chemical reaction that occurs when ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.

What many may not realize, is that vitamin D is a prohormone. Prohormones are substances our body can convert to hormones. Unlike many other vitamins only about 10% of vitamin D is absorbed from food, and the rest the body makes for itself. Once vitamin D is synthesized, it's then activated by the liver and kidneys, then converted to calcitriol, which is the active form of the hormone in the body that helps to regulate calcium metabolism.

Vitamin D has several important functions. Perhaps the most vital are regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and enabling normal immune system function. Getting sufficient amount of Vitamin D is important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or break. Vitamin D sufficiency prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia (softening of bones) in adults. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. as well as improved resistance against certain diseases.

The World Health Organization states depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Vitamin D plays a role in regulating several neurotransmitters that are linked to depression such as adrenaline, noradrenaline (also called norepinepherine), and dopamine production in the brain; as well as helping to protect from serotonin depletion. Researchers have discovered vitamin D receptors on a handful of cells located in areas of the brain that contribute to brain function. For these reasons, having low levels of vitamin D make you more susceptible to depression.

In addition to its primary health benefits, research suggests that vitamin D may also play a role in reducing your risk of multiple sclerosis, decreasing your chance of developing heart disease, reducing mental illness (aside from depression), and aiding in weight loss.

Keep in mind the skin can only produce a limited amount of vitamin D at one time. Once your body reaches its limit, spending more time in the sun will not continue to increase vitamin D levels. Continued time in the sun will increase your skin cancer risk though, so