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The Surprising Health Benefits of Fresh Air

Under: General Health

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started and the world was asked to stay at home and avoid social interactions, our demanding schedules and hectic routines left little time to enjoy the great outdoors. In fact, according to some pre-pandemic government estimates, people in the United States spent, on average, 90 percent of their lives indoors.

Being “cooped up” inside for extended periods can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation, which have been linked to higher risks for physical and mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even premature death. But, while it may still be a little longer before we can return to our normal lives, it is never too late to reap the health benefits of being outdoors and getting some fresh air.

Here are a few reasons to venture out and soak up the sunshine and fresh air, even if we temporarily have to do it while wearing a mask and allowing sufficient space for social distancing.

It helps clear your lungs

Now that the weather is getting colder, it may feel cozy to stay indoors with all the doors and windows sealed shut, but stale indoor air can wreak havoc on people who suffer from allergies or are prone to respiratory problems.

Considering the amount of smog, haze, and car emissions floating in the air, it’s easy to think that air pollution occurs only outside. But research shows that the air in indoor spaces can be more polluted than the air in the street. Microscopic dust mites, mold, lead, fire retardants, and radon (not to mention volatile chemicals from everyday household products) can hang on the walls, cushions, carpets, and drapes. When we breathe them in, they can cause allergies, asthma, and lung irritation.

Fresh air, on the other hand, contains higher levels of oxygen and lower levels of pollution. Oxygen helps dilate blood vessels in the lungs, promoting cellular and tissue reparation and improving their ability to cleanse themselves.

It may help you heal faster

Oxygen is not only good for clearing out your lungs. It’s also essential for healing from illnesses and injuries. An adequate amount of oxygen is needed for cellular function; it keeps cells nourished and helps create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an essential organic compound and the primary energy source at the cellular level.

Studies have shown that patients exposed to natural sunlight after surgery tend to take fewer medications, experience less pain, and have a more favorable recovery experience. A recent study published in the journal Biomolecules also showed that oxygen therapy has the ability to preserve brain tissue and improve outcomes in stroke patients. While this study was not conducted using outdoor, fresh air, it’s pretty clear that we could all benefit from breathing in a little more oxygen in the form of fresh air.

It will improve your mood

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that the human body makes when the skin is exposed directly to the sun. There may be some association between vitamin D deficiencies and certain mood disorders, including depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a type of depression that typically occurs during the fall and winter and ends in spring or early summer. In a 2018 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, investigators found that low vitamin D levels are associated with depression.

In addition to higher vitamin D levels, spending time outdoors – especially in green spaces – has been associated with a lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders. In fact, a 2019 meta-analysis of studies comparing indoor and outdoor exercise found that just a few minutes of exercising in an outdoors, green space resulted in improved mood and better self-esteem.

Go outside and get some fresh air

It will give you more energy and mental clarity

Evidence suggests that children with ADHD may fare better in exams and schoolwork after spending time outdoors. Getting fresh air in outdoor green spaces also seems to reduce ADHD symptoms in some children. Of course, those studies were done in children, and it’s hard to say if it applies to adults, let alone adults without ADHD. But, in a 2008 analysis conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, participants who walked in nature improved their attention and memory scores by 20 percent compared to those who walked in more urban settings.

It will boost your immune system

Those who get outside and breathe fresh (clean) air on a regular basis have been shown to have stronger immune systems than those who stay indoors. Fresh air can help your immune system to fight off disease more effectively due to healthier white blood cells. It also supplies your immune system with the oxygen it needs to kill and destroy bacteria, viruses, and germs. Breathing in stale air will not supply your body with enough oxygen to keep your cells fueled and functioning properly.

It will improve heart health

Being outdoors and inhaling fresh air helps clear your lungs and enables you to take deeper, longer breaths of air — which increases the amount of oxygen that’s transported to your body’s cells. Increased oxygen in your body is great for your heart and overall health.

Spending time outdoors

There is nothing worse than being stuck indoors for long periods of time. We all need fresh air; our bodies crave the oxygen and the good feelings that come with it. Not only will you feel better, but you may boost your health for a lifetime. Make some time in your life to get outside and breathe the freshness. Spending time outdoors does not mean you have to take a trip to a national forest. Just being outdoors anywhere the air is fresh should be part of your everyday health routine. If you are unable to spend much time outdoors and if you live in an area that tends to get good air quality, then open your windows as much as possible and take a deep breath. But if the air quality is poor, especially near major highly trafficked roads or highways, industrial areas, or large airports, air from an HVAC system (air purifier) with a good filter may be better for you. Breathing stale, polluted, or recirculated air makes our bodies have to work harder to get the oxygen they need to rejuvenate our bodies and minds. So head for clean air when you can and breathe deeply. Your body and your mind will thank you in the long run.