In the last year, it’s been easy for me to coop myself up in my room and spend the entire day without stepping outside once. I’m either afraid of getting COVID-19 or I get caught up with work, and by the time I think about getting some rays, the sun has already set.
Because I have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which affects my breathing, I’m considered a high risk for COVID-19. So, I try to stay quarantined as much as I can. Because of that, I don’t get as much outside time as I would like. My inside routine has become so normal that I forget about the importance of spending time with nature.
Thanks to a little coaxing from my mom, I now experience the outdoors a few times per week. Consistently going on a short walk around the apartment grounds has made quarantining both healthier and more enjoyable.
I briefly touched on this topic in another column I wrote while living in Washington, D.C. At the time, I wrote the following about being outdoors and swimming: “These simple things ground me in my Creator and refresh my mind and body in a way that isn’t possible through TV or video games.”
I wrote that sentence before COVID-19 forced us to stay home indefinitely, but the logic is true now more than ever. We need to refresh ourselves from the monotonous routines that chain us indoors. Nothing can ever replace the sunshine, the chirping birds, and the familiar faces we see when we leave our familiar and comfortable homes.
As a writer and journalist, being outdoors inspires me. It’s a necessary break from the backlit monitor that tells me I’m a failure because I haven’t written anything yet. Some of my best ideas have come when I wasn’t thinking about words that haven’t yet appeared on a page. After spending time outdoors, I come back and let my creative juices flow.
Science has proven that being outdoors is good for your health. Researchers pored over 143 studies that focused on the impact of green space, and then determined that increased exposure led to lower blood pressure, better self-reported health, and decreased risk of hypertension, asthma, and coronary heart disease. A more recent study from June 2019 showed that people’s self-reported health was significantly higher after spending at least 120 minutes in nature.
The link between interaction with green space and better health isn’t entirely understood, but from my personal experience and what I’ve read about the topic, it makes sense. We actually see other people when we are outdoors. The need to connect with fellow humans is part of our DNA, and it also is mentally stimulating, especially when we engage in deep conversations. Obviously, we must maintain a safe social distance, but that’s just one of the many benefits to being outside.
You’ve probably heard it thousands of times by now, but with sunshine comes vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the body, reduces inflammation, and helps us grow, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Because many of us with Duchenne take steroids, thus making our bones weaker, it’s especially important we get vitamin D through food, supplements, and of course, sunlight. The UVB radiation from the sun penetrates our skin and converts molecules in our body to the active form of vitamin D. The NIH recommends five to 30 minutes of sun exposure every day or twice per week.
According to The New York Times, simply getting sun through a window won’t cut it. Most of the glass in cars and at home block UVB. Sorry, as nice as curling up with a book in a sunny nook sounds, you won’t get your vitamin D from it.
Also, anecdotally, I believe that my mental health is improved from being outside. Separating myself from my desk and the stress it produces calms me down and clears my mind. We’re not designed to be inside all the time, tethered to our electronic devices. Getting time in green space gives my mind and eyes a rest.
I know that with Duchenne it can be difficult to get to a green space. Accessibility issues, transportation, and physical boundaries make going outdoors an adventure, but one that’s well worth it. You don’t have to go far, and you don’t need a lot of time to reap the benefits that the great outdoors bestow upon us.
Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.
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