Wellness Wednesday Week 3- Sun Exposure and Nature

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, with pollutant concentrations 2 to 5 times higher than the outdoors.

Pollutants from combustion, building materials, animal waste and dander, mold, cleaning and other household products, and pesticides are just a few that pose a significant risk to our health. 

These pollutants significantly degrade air quality and are especially problematic for susceptible populations such as babies and children, elderly, and the chronically ill and disabled. Common indoor pollutants can increase the risk of cancer, worsen respiratory and cardiac conditions, and interfere with the proper growth and development of children.

Using indoor filters and decreasing the use of household chemicals can help to improve indoor air quality. However, with the innumerable amount of pollutants that can exist, it’s almost impossible to account for everything. Try to identify the most high risk pollutants in your environment, then research ways to reduce the impact it may have on your household. 

Sunlight is one of the most under-appreciated factors in the health of humans. The fear-mongering surrounding sun exposure and skin cancer has led most people to believe that no amount of sun, without sunscreen on, is safe. The end result is a vitamin D deficiency epidemic with increased osteoporosis and other chronic diseases, impaired immune function, circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) disorders, worsening mental health disorders, and increased chemical exposure when lathering on cheap sunscreen products.

Public health authorities have failed to make a clear distinction between the impact of sun exposure and getting sunburned. Brief bouts of sun exposure, 15 minute increments, are usually well tolerated and generally will not result in sunburning. You can do this 2 to 4 times per day, early in the morning and later in the evening if you don’t want to be exposed to the intense midday sunlight. 

If you need to be out in the sun longer than this, you can try using a more natural sunscreen product. I think it’s counterproductive to use a product that is supposed to prevent one problem but potentially creates another one. If you search “natural sunscreens” you can find many great options. One caveat, if you have a condition or are taking a medication that increases photosensitivity and the risk of sunburning then you may need to be more aggressive with sunscreen use. Invest in a good one.

Getting out in nature is food for the soul. You don’t have to go deep into the wilderness to get the health benefits of nature. A local park with grass, trees, and some wildlife can make a big difference. The American Psychological Association reported on a study showing at least two hours in nature per week, as a single session or spread out, has immense cognitive and mental health benefits.

USDA Forest Service mentions that a relaxing outdoor environment reduces stress, including stress hormones like cortisol, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. You can gain the benefits with activities like hiking, trail running, and cycling, or you can just sit outside in the grass, enjoy a nice picnic, or go for a leisurely stroll.

Going out in nature with safe sun exposure and fresh air can significantly improve mental and physical well-being, reducing the risk of various chronic diseases. Try finding ways to fit in more outdoor time, like during your lunch break or after dinner. By decreasing your time indoors, you’re also reducing indoor pollutant exposure. This is an easy win as a wellness goal that can be implemented this week. 

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