Being outside promotes positive mental and physical health

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Cabin fever can claim more than muppets on a boat setting out for Treasure Island. Brutal winter temperatures discourage even the strongest willed from going outside, leading to depression, stress and an extra inch around their waistlines.

Temperatures drop, daylight hours decrease, and many Americans will experience mild symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, ironically abbreviated as SAD. SAD is a type of depression that affects between 4 and 6 percent of Americans. However, more than 20 percent of Americans will develop mild forms of SAD this winter. Many doctors believe the best treatment is to spend more time outside.

Hibernating indoors, curled up on the couch with a good blanket and Netflix can be tempting, but it may not be the best solution. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, SAD may be caused by a lack of sunlight. Exposure to sunlight can promote boosts in serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter), which is generally low in most people during the winter months. Serotonin helps to regulate sleep, memory, appetite and happiness — making sunlight an effective and natural way to promote positive moods.

Playing sports outside may also be beneficial to self esteem. Ian Robertson has been a sports coordinator for Provo Parks and Recreation for seven years. He explains “kids can be a little timid at the beginning of the season. But as the season progresses, they get to know each other as they exercise outside, and by the end of the season they have more confidence.”

Evan Buckmiller poses next to a bull elk he took in the mountains of Utah.

Evan Buckmiller, a senior at BYU, lost his father to cancer just before his mission. Both before and after his mission, Buckmiller underwent a grieving process and was diagnosed by LDS Family Services with severe depression.

“I found that staying inside studying and just kind of doing the typical life as a college student wasn’t really helping me to be happy,” Buckmiller said. “What really brought me happiness was doing a lot of the things that I did with my dad before, and those were pretty much exclusively outdoors.”

Buckmiller grew up in the outdoors, going on camping trips with his family from the time he was an infant. His father then took him on scouting trips when he was four and soon after began taking him on hunting and fishing trips.

“How I found happiness and joy was by getting outside and going fishing,” he explained. “I just really love the feeling I get being outside in nature. Sure it’s nice to be at home and lie in bed and be warm and relax, but there’s just something about being outside and not only seeing the beauty of God’s creations but also being a part of His creation as well.”

Winter may bring sicknesses as well as cold temperatures. Going outside and absorbing sunlight promotes the development of vitamin D. The body uses vitamin D for many reasons, one of which is to fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Vitamin D intake is best produced from being directly outside. Skin exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D.”

Getting outside in the winter time may be difficult. However, those strong enough to force themselves outside this winter could find themselves in a healthier, happier state.

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