The hidden health benefits of being outdoors

While Auckland is still in a state of level 3 lockdown, it may be prudent to look for the hidden health benefits of being outdoors. If you have a toddler, you already know how hard it has been to entertain them indoors during lockdown. And now you can travel a little wider afield. The extra scope Aucklanders have to move around a bit more freely, albeit outside, has a number of perks. It’s more than being able to catch up with friends and family (which is another large benefit in terms of mental health). But for those of us without close family or friends nearby, there are other benefits too. Let’s look to the silver lining and make the most of it, while sticking to “the rules”.

Where will you head to first?

The beach is my first thought, there is something about being near water that is calming, for me at least. Auckland has more than 80 nearby beaches, so you’re spoilt for choice. If you’re a NZ’er chances are, you already have your favourite. Bonus points if it’s not everyone else’s favourite (remember we’re still social distancing here). If beaches aren’t your thing (sand in sandwiches isn’t everyone’s idea of a picnic), there are a number of parks and bushwalks to explore around our green city. Indeed, just heading outdoors means getting closer to nature and that alone means improved wellbeing. Let’s look at just some of these hidden health benefits.

The benefits of the beach

Ever since physicians of the 16th century first suggested that a dunk in the cold ocean was a remedy from anything from melancholy to heat stroke, cold salt water has been the wonder drug to cure the pressures of urban life, pollution, and the general deterioration of society (sound familiar? Society has always had its ills). That’s even before the seaside resorts of the 18th century. As a sleep coach, I consider sleep the panacea for our modern-day ills. But I also concede that a day at the beach (or just being outdoors in nature) helps us get more restful zzz’s. Even if you don’t go swimming. Note: If you are tempted to go into the water this spring, make sure you are doing it safely by checking out SwimSafe NZ. Surf lifesaving, search and rescue and the coastguard are only operating in emergencies in level 3. Don’t be a statistic! General consensus is that just being near the sea is relaxing. Hearing it, even more so. Listening to the sound of waves has been shown to alter brain patterns, lulling you into a deeply relaxed state, reducing stress and increasing a sense of calm. Visiting the seaside also encourages physical activity, remember those days you use to cartwheel down the beach? OK, even if it’s simply a walk on the beach, you’re getting your daily exercise. Besides, walking on sand increases resistance; giving your legs more of a work-out and burning more calories than a flat stable walk. And going barefoot on sand gives your feet a good exfoliation.

The benefit of nature in general

Getting outside into nature, or even viewing scenes of nature has been found to have benefits; it can reduce anger, fear, and stress, and in turn, increase pleasant feelings.  What’s more, nature helps us cope with pain and increases our feeling of calm and leads us to be more balanced in terms of our mood. Definitely a health benefit of being outdoors. Most of us don’t need research to prove to us this is the case. Just being outdoors in nature is telling enough. But when we are limited in this, we find a way to bring nature to us. There is a very valid reason for the increase in “plant mums”  over the last couple of years, as we try and recreate the outdoors, indoors. Especially over winter. Can you relate? However, as we head into Summer, we do want to make more effort to be outside. Getting sunlight on our skin by being outdoors gives us a daily dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a precursor to our sleepy hormone melatonin. So, getting outside really does improve sleep (and good sleep improves, well, everything). Doing this safely around lunchtime can also reset our circadian rhythm, or body clock – and help us reset our days and nights.  This will help those of us who may have succumbed to a few too many Netflix binges and staying up far too late at night. Lunchtime picnic anyone? As a first stage of getting back to “real” life, there are certainly some valid health benefits to being outdoors. Letting us further afield to get out of our urban jungle is a great first step. Not to mention that focusing on the positives will also lift our mood as we continue to chase the tail (sorry, the tentacle) of delta. My daughter is a beach baby through and through, and will go swimming in the middle of winter if allowed to. I know she’ll accompany me on my outings “out” this spring. But I also have a teen that feels it is uncool to go anywhere other than the football pitch. So, it may take some “convincing” to get him out for a lunchtime picnic with the family, despite the hidden health benefits. Wish me luck. Above all, stay safe out there, and sleep well.   Kim is a Mum with a BSC. and the founder of Cherished Sleep. As a sleep specialist she helps people of all ages realise the benefits of good sleep through sleep hygiene, healthy sleep habits and behavioural modification. She also loves a good writing session and has written multiple blogs on the topics of sleep, parenting and wellbeing. You can follow Kim on Facebook, Insta or Pinterest.       More information (and references) here: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) More on the current Auckland covid rules here:   [activecampaign form=1]