Updated: Apr 3
“Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.”
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Jane Austen was fond of walking, so it’s no surprise that many of her characters—Elizabeth, Anne, Elinor, and Marianne come to mind—share the same pleasure. And despite the changes in medicine and technology since the nineteenth century, the heroines of today also benefit from time spent outdoors pursuing leisure.
Modern Problems and Traditional Solutions
“All parts of the body which have a function, if used in moderation and exercised in labors in which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy, well developed and age more slowly, but if unused they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly.”
Time spent on physical activity has decreased in recent decades. Americans now spend over half their waking hours sedentary. For many of us, this includes driving, working at a desk, or watching television. But our bodies are designed to move and explore.
What happens to our health when we follow a sedentary lifestyle? As our movement has decreased, we’ve seen an increase in diseases related to impaired glucose tolerance, including insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes. At least one study proposed that sitting for over seven hours a day can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. This makes some sense, as movement is necessary for proper functioning of major systems, including circulation, digestion, immunity, and metabolism.
In more recent years, screen viewing has also increased. Research suggests that blue light from electronic devices can disrupt normal melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that is often associated with sleep, and so excessive screen time can interfere with sleep quality, which can then lead to poor physical and mental health. But melatonin receptors are also found in the female reproductive organs, indicating the importance of this hormone in women’s health and fertility.
Sitting and screen time are not in themselves the problem. People sit to read and craft and socialize and share meals together. Screens help us learn and work and connect us with others separated by distance. Rather, it’s the long periods of inactivity and screen viewing that cause disruptions in our health.
The solution? Enjoy physical activity outside.
The Benefits of Outdoor Movement
“Every day, my love for the mountains grows more and more. If my studies permitted, I’d spend whole days in the mountains contemplating the Creator’s greatness in that pure air.”
Pier Giorgio Frassati
There are many outdoor activities to pursue. Gardening, walking, birdwatching, rucking, cycling, hiking, swimming, and running are popular options, but what do they all have in common? Exposure to sunlight, nature, and motion.
Full spectrum sunlight is important for our body’s internal clock, which affects sleep quality, hormones, and behavior. Vitamin D is produced by our skin when exposed to the sun. Due to the amount of time spent indoors, many people are deficient, and this can result in bone disorders, heart disease, cancer, and negative birth outcomes. By increasing the amount of time in the sun, you can meet your daily requirement of Vitamin D. Adequate levels of Vitamin D help with the immune system, insulin sensitivity, and thyroid function.
Going outside has mental and health benefits. Exploring nature can enhance a positive mood, develop mindfulness, and reduce stress. Several studies point out that exposure to nature helps with resilience—the ability to deal with chronic stress. Recent research indicates that physical contact with the outside world—sometimes called grounding—can help manage inflammation.
Exercise is important for several life processes. Improved glucose tolerance can reduce the risk of developing several metabolic disorders. Good cardiovascular health is associated with an increased lifespan. At the molecular level, exercise improves mitochondria health and gene expression. Healthy mitochondria are important in egg development. You can use your fifth vital sign to determine the appropriate amount of exercise.
Spring marks the beginning of new growth. Take time to enjoy creation, explore, and heal.
Arshad D, Joyia UM, Fatima S, Khalid N, Rishi AI, Rahim NUA, Bukhari SF, Shairwani GK, Salmaan A. The adverse impact of excessive smartphone screen-time on sleep quality among young adults: A prospective cohort. Sleep Sci. 2021 Jan-Mar; 14(4): 337-341.
Eigenschenk B, Thomann A, McClure M, Davies, L, Gregory, M, Dettweiler, U, Inglés, E. Benefits of Outdoor Sports for Society. A Systematic Literature Review and Reflections on Evidence. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2019, 16, 937.
Hawley JA. Exercise as a therapeutic intervention for the prevention and treatment of insulin resistance. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2004 Sep-Oct; 20(5): 383-93.
Kerr J, Marshall S, Godbole S, Neukam S, Crist K, Wasilenko K, Golshan S, Buchner D. The Relationship between Outdoor Activity and Health in Older Adults Using GPS. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2012; 9(12): 4615-4625.
Mutz M, Müller J. Mental health benefits of outdoor adventures: Results from two pilot studies. Journal of Adolescence, Volume 49, 2016, Pages 105-114.
Olcese, JM. Melatonin and female reproduction: an expanding universe. Frontiers in endocrinology 11 (2020): 85.
Oschman JL, Chevalier G, Brown R. The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. J Inflamm Res. 2015 Mar 24;8:83-96.
Patterson R, McNamara E, Tainio M, de Sá TH, Smith AD, Sharp SJ, Edwards P, Woodcock J, Brage S, Wijndaele K. Sedentary behavior and risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, and incident type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and dose response meta-analysis. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018 Sep; 33(9): 811-829.
Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018 Jul 2;8(7)
Weirich B, Ramirez C, Nature: A Post-Pandemic Prescription. Nurse Leader, Volume 20, Issue 5, 2022, Pages 473-479.