Sometimes on our quest to achieve stellar health and fitness, we forget about the basics – consistently spending enough time in nature and giving our bodies a boost of fresh air and sunshine as often as possible.
Truth is, many people are spending too much time stuck in an indoor office environment tied to a desk, lounging on the couch in front of the TV, glued to their computers scanning the web or lost in a world of virtual games.
Meantime, their real life sits on hold while their health slowly but silently declines.
The intake of fresh air for these "office dwellers" or "couch potatoes" consists of the few moments' walk from the car to the office and back or a quick sprint to the kerb to take the garbage out. Even sadder, with cell phones and tablets taking over, our children don't spend near as much time outdoors as they used to, and they are suffering as well.
With restrictions caused by the pandemic, many people have had to spend more time indoors and, for many, this has meant less time outdoors and in the sun. But getting enough sunshine is important as the sun helps our bodies to make vitamin D to keep the immune system strong.
Spending too much time indoors is not healthy for anyone. Our cells, through metabolic processes, throw off toxic waste and we exhale this waste out. Being stuck indoors leads to breathing stale air that is depleted of oxygen and filled with toxic waste contributed by us and whomever we are sharing the room with.
Not only is it important to breath fresh air, but researchers have discovered that vitamin D is more necessary to our health than originally thought and sunshine is our source for vitamin D.
Sunlight, when it hits the skin, turns a chemical in the skin to vitamin D3. This is carried to the liver and then on to the kidneys where it is transformed into active and usable vitamin D for the body.
This sunshine vitamin plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of bone health by increasing the absorption of calcium. This protects us against the debilitating disease of osteoporosis.
It also stays true to its name and has proven to be a major player in warding off depression because natural light boosts our levels of serotonin, our mood-boosting hormone.
On the other hand, low levels of vitamin D reduce the amount of calcium stores and increase our risk of bone fractures. Weight gain, insomnia, muscle cramps, respiratory illnesses, headaches, fatigue and other maladies can all be attributed to an insufficient amount of this sunshine vitamin.
And, the damage doesn't stop there. Further research links the lack of vitamin D to autoimmune diseases, allergies in children and even cancers such as ovarian, breast, prostate and colon cancer.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that "deficient exposure to sunlight can actually result in a 70 per cent increased chance of developing cancer". Not a pretty statistic nor one you want to test.
Even with all the glaring warning signs, more than half of adults remain deficient in vitamin D. Since it takes a mere 10 minutes of sunshine daily to stimulate the production of vitamin D and sunshine is provided freely by Mother Nature, this is a real but totally inexcusable situation.
It's up to us to make sure we get our share of this life-giving commodity. That means getting outside where we bask in life-giving sun rays, because to stimulate the production of vitamin D, we must be in direct sunlight, not behind a glass window looking out.
Here's a proven list of reasons we need to be spending quality time outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine:
• Sunshine and fresh air are natural antiseptics. Exposure can kill some moulds, different bacteria, virus strains and even dust mites
• They both help with digestion and elimination
• They increase red blood cell production – a boost to our immune system for fighting disease
• They work together to speed metabolism and help prevent obesity
• They lower blood cholesterol levels and help regulate sleep patterns – especially helpful for insomniacs.
Beyond the obvious health benefits (stimulation of vitamin D) that sunshine provides, fresh air just seems to entice us into exercise. Since there is an endless variety of outdoor physical activities that work to provide a real boost to our health, it's a perfect marriage.
And, the best part is we can engage in these activities ourselves or make it a fun family activity and choose something that the whole family can enjoy together such as walking, swimming or bicycling.
You know the saying "the family that plays together, stays together".
Because of climate changes and geographical locations, it's not always easy to get the required amount of vitamin D daily. There are, however, vitamin D supplements that can help fill the void when sunshine is not an option.
Low levels of vitamin D can cause many physical and health problems.
However, the best and surest way to provide the vitamin D that our bodies require is to tap into the gift of sunlight. And, because sunlight demands that we come outside to absorb its healing rays, we also benefit from all that fresh air!
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.