Ever wonder what happens to your body when you stop going outside? After all, with live streaming workouts you can do at home, the wealth of movies and TV shows available on Netflix and Hulu for your viewing pleasure, grocery and restaurant delivery services, and the ability to video chat with friends and family across the globe, spending time outside doesn’t always seem necessary.
However, according to health experts, failing to go outside will only hurt your health in the long run, as doing so deprives your body of vitamin D — an essential vitamin produced by the cholesterol within your skin when your body is exposed to sunlight (via Healthline). And while there are certainly vitamin D-rich foods and supplements you can take, going outdoors does more than simply improve your physical health — it’s been proven to have positive effects on your mental health, as well. According to Dr. Jason Strauss from Cambridge Health Alliance, “Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.”
If you haven’t been outside lately, it’s time to get some fresh air. From mood swings to achy joints, here’s what happens to your body when you stop going outside.
When you stop going outside, you may notice a major mood shift
While many people find comfort and joy in having a cozy, relaxing weekend indoors, staying holed up inside for too long can actually have a negative effect on your mood.
Research conducted by the Baker Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia found that not spending enough time in sunlight directly impacts your body’s level of serotonin — a feel-good chemical and neurotransmitter believed to be a natural mood stabilizer. According to WebMD, the study showed that the brain produces more of the “happiness hormone” on sunny days than on gloomier days. So, by that logic, your brain produces more serotonin when you’re outside in the sunlight than it does when you’re inside basking in the light of your TV.
As explained by a University of Cambridge study, low levels of serotonin weaken communication between certain parts of the brain, often resulting in feelings of aggressiveness (via Everyday Health). So, next time you feel the impulse to snap on your significant other for leaving a dirty dish in the sink, maybe take a walk outside.
If you're having trouble waking up in the mornings, it could be because you've stopped going outside
If you’re a late night social media scroller, we have bad news. According to Harvard University researchers, the blue light emitted by our computer and phone screens (especially at night) suppresses melatonin, the brain’s sleep hormone — majorly throwing off your body’s circadian rhythm.
However, according to Kenneth Wright, a sleep cycle expert and a professor of integrative physiology, exposure to natural, morning light can help get your circadian rhythm back on track. As reported by NPR, Wright came to this conclusion by studying two groups of people for a week — one group camped outdoors with limited access to any kind of technology, while the other group stayed indoors with no technological restrictions. Wright’s research found that melatonin levels in the campers rose before bedtime and fell upon waking, while melatonin levels in the non-campers didn’t fall until a couple of hours after they’d gotten out of bed.
As Wright told NPR, by spending too much time glued to our phones and not enough time in the great outdoors, “our brains say we should be sleeping several hours after we wake up.”
Pesky aches and pains happen when you stop going outside
Aches and pains are essentially inescapable. Even the healthiest of people experience the occasional leg cramp, stiff neck, and headache. However, according to experts, when you don’t go outside, you don’t get enough vitamin D — subsequently making yourself even more vulnerable to these pesky pains.
As noted by medical microbiologist and immunologist Margherita T. Cantorna (via The Washington Post), vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s produced within the skin when your body is exposed to sunlight. Naturally then, staying indoors for extended periods of time and choosing to stop going outside drastically decrease your body’s vitamin D production. And according to Dr. Greg Plotnikoff, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with myriad of aches and pains.
According to WebMD, Plotnikoff conducted a 2003 study of 150 patients complaining of chronic pain, only to find that 93 percent of the patients had “extremely low” vitamin D levels. And as noted by Cleveland Clinic, not getting enough sun can have lasting, harmful effects on kids. A major lack of vitamin D is known to cause rickets, which is characterized in children as severe muscle weakness, bone pain, and joint deformities.
When you stop going outside, be prepared for tummy trouble
Vitamin D plays a part in having a healthy, functioning gut, so, if you stop going outside, you may experience some stomach issues.
According to Dr. Margherita T. Cantorna, a medical microbiologist and immunologist, vitamin D has been found to increase and diversify the gut’s microbes, which work to promote gut health and reduce inflammation throughout the entire body. However, as Cantorna explained in The Washington Post, low levels of vitamin D caused by limited exposure to sunlight have been associated with the development of inflammatory bowel disease — not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome.
As the immunologist explained, researchers discovered that people in Japan suffering from inflammatory bowel disease showed more symptoms during winter months — presumably when they’re not spending as much time outdoors — than they do any other part of the year. For a healthier gut, Cantorna recommends consuming more vitamin D during the winter. And, if you’re a person who spends most of your time indoors year-round, you might want to ask your doctor if you should add a vitamin D supplement to your daily regimen.
When you stop going outside, cabin fever may set in
Most people are well-acquainted with the term “cabin fever.” Whether you’ve heard someone use it to describe their displeasure at being stuck indoors or you happen to be a fan of the 2002 horror flick Cabin Fever — these two words have been a part of the cultural zeitgeist for quite some time.
While cabin fever isn’t technically a real psychological disorder, the feelings it evokes within people stuck inside for extended periods of time are very real — and very unpleasant. According to a study published in The Journal of Social Psychology in the 1980s, the definition of cabin fever varies from person to person. However, for many of the study’s participants, some of the most common indicators of cabin fever were boredom, agitation, and feelings of general dissatisfaction. “Just knowing the fact that no matter what comes up you can’t leave is probably more aggravating than anything else,” one of the study’s participants confessed (via The Washington Post).
While you may not be able to travel far from home, Psychology Today recommends breaking your cabin fever by spending time outdoors as much as possible.
When you stop going outside, your allergies might get worse
As beautiful as the outdoors are during springtime, the threat of seasonal allergies may scare you into observing nature’s beauty through your window. After all, depending on where you live, pollen can often feel more poisonous than simply annoying.
However, some medical professionals say refusing to go outdoors could actually make your allergies worse. According to a 2004 study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, myriad of allergic diseases have become more and more common over the past few decades. Many researchers believe the increase in allergic reactions to various elements is associated with the growing number of people who prefer to stay indoors. As noted by The Guardian, hay fever — which began in the 19th century — mostly affected those who spent their time indoors and not those who spent the majority of their days working outside.
According to allergist and immunologist Dr. Daniel More, research has shown that vitamin D, which is produced when the body is exposed to sunlight, can actually activate cells to prevent chemical releases which would worsen allergic reactions (via VeryWell Health). In other words, the great outdoors might just be the best allergy medication on the market.
You may feel more stressed if you stop going outside
Unfortunately, no one is immune from stress. Even if you’re not a person particularly prone to being stressed out, it’s incredibly contagious — especially in a world filled with political turmoil, economic woes, and global health emergencies. Additionally, the emphasis modern society places on hustling, grinding, and being a productivity machine is enough to make even the most even-keeled person feel overwhelmed.
While your first instinct when you’re feeling stressed might be to hide indoors, curl up on your couch, and let Netflix work its entertainment magic on your fried brain, experts say going outside is the one of the best things you can do for your mental well-being.
“When we spend time [outside] the noises, textures, the light and smells of nature are a naturally conducive message for the brain to slow down,” psychotherapist Owen O’Kane told Metro. He explained, “An added advantage is that it also supports an increase of serotonin and dopamine. These are the feel good hormones, helping you feel calmer and happier.”
If you stop going outside, you might increase your risk for cancer
Most people are aware of the damaging effects too much sun exposure has on skin. Aside from getting a painful sunburn, spending too much time in the sun without SPF protection has been proven to cause melanoma, a skin cancer that can prove fatal if not detected at an early stage. However, research shows that getting too little sun might raise one’s risk of cancer as well.
According to findings presented by researchers from Commonwealth Medical College, three-fourths of patients with various types of cancer diagnoses had low levels of vitamin D, which is produced when the body is exposed to sunlight. And, as noted by the study, those patients who were particularly deficient in the vitamin had been diagnosed with more advanced stages of cancer (via WebMD).
“We need adequate amounts [of vitamin D] to keep cell growth in check,” Dr. Michael Holick told WebMD, emphasizing the importance of vitamin D in keeping cells from multiplying too quickly and subsequently promoting tumor growth.
When you stop going outside, your memory might falter
With all the information we consume daily, it’s easy to feel like your brain is close to reaching its new information capacity. And as the years have gone by, you’ve likely found yourself forgetting things you once thought would be stored in your memory bank forever — like the face of an old classmate or the name of your first pet.
While most everyone loses these types of non-essential memories as they grow older and have more life experiences, there are ways to exercise your brain and improve your memory. According to a 2008 study conducted by University of Michigan researchers, taking a scenic nature walk improved the short-term memory of participants by nearly 20 percent.
In other words, if you’ve recently walked into a room and immediately forgotten your reason for being there, perhaps you should go for a walk outside.
When you stop going outside, you may start to feel depressed
If you’re lucky, you love where you live. Whether you rent a three-bedroom apartment with roommates, have a studio all to yourself, or live with your family in a house with its own yard (and perhaps even a white picket fence), it’s a great feeling to find comfort in the place you call home. After all, there aren’t many things that can beat eating pizza and binge-watching The Office in the one place you feel most, well, at home. However, having too much of a good thing does exist — and, in this case, it could be detrimental to your well-being.
According to clinical psychologist Stephanie J. Wong (via Psycom.net), staying indoors for extended periods of time (or hibernating) “can facilitate and exacerbate symptoms of depression.” Wong continued, “While it may seem comforting to spend time in bed, wrapped up in the covers, doing so for long periods of time can decrease your motivation to engage in other activities.”
Home might be where the heart is, but staying locked up inside your home for too long and not going outside isn’t good for your head.
If you stop going outside, you might feel constantly fatigued
While you probably hated naps as a child, your adult self would likely give anything to be able to take a midday nap. Unfortunately, adulthood requires you to pony up and yawn your way through your day, no matter how sleepy you may be.
That said, feeling constantly fatigued in your daily life is neither normal nor healthy. But if you’re a person who only ventures outside when you absolutely have to, there’s a good chance you feel mentally and/or physically tired more often than not, as medical professionals believe there to be a correlation between not getting enough vitamin D and feeling constantly fatigued, as noted by Cleveland Clinic.
According to studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology in 2010, going outside may be the best way to boost your energy (via University of Rochester). Calling nature “fuel for the soul,” psychology professor and lead author on the studies Richard Ryan explained, “Often when we feel depleted we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”
When you stop going outside, you could be putting yourself at risk for obesity and other diseases
It’s easier than ever before to skip the gym and complete your daily workout in the comfort of your own home — that is, if you have a daily workout regimen. But, considering a 2013 CDC report revealed 80 percent of Americans don’t get enough exercise per day (via CBS News), it’s safe to say the majority of folks aren’t working out at home.
Of course, if you don’t keep up with a daily at-home workout regimen and also refuse to spend time outdoors, you’re making yourself extra vulnerable to diseases associated with sedentary indoor lifestyles, which include obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (via VeryWell Health).
When you spend most of your time indoors and have stopped going outside, you have more opportunities to indulge in indoor activities — such as sitting on your sofa and binge-watching Netflix. And according to Lilian Cheung, director of health promotion and communication at Harvard School of Public Health, this pastime has potential to wreak havoc on your health. “There’s convincing evidence in adults that the more television they watch, the more likely they are to gain weight or become overweight or obese,” Cheung told NPR.
When kids stop going outside, it could affect their vision
Chances are you have childhood memories of your parents telling you to not sit too close to the television, as doing so would harm your vision. And, if you’re a parent yourself, you’ve likely issued a similar warning to your own children, heeding experts’ advice about limiting the amount of time your kids spend staring at a computer or tablet screen.
But while you’ve probably educated yourself on the activities that could negatively impact your child’s eyesight, you may not be as aware of the activities that serve to improve your child’s vision — such as going outside to play.
According to a study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, playing outside could reduce your kid’s chances of needing glasses in the future. Even if a child has two nearsighted parents, the study found that approximately 14 hours of outdoor playtime per week could effectively neutralize their chance of needing glasses to about 20 percent (via CNN). For comparison, a child with two nearsighted parents who doesn’t spend much time playing outdoors has about a 60 percent chance of requiring vision aid as they get older.
You might be exposed to more pollutants if you stop going outside
Air pollution is a serious problem that has only gotten worse with a growing global population. And, depending on where you live in the world and what medical conditions you may have, the threat of inhaling heavily polluted air could deter you from going outside at all — sometimes rightfully so.
However, according to a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, as reported by CNBC, the air you breathe inside your home or office building could be even more dangerous than the polluted air outside. “When we think of the term ‘air pollution,’ we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling gray smoke,” researcher Prashant Kumar said. Explaining that many sources of air pollution could possibly be found within your home, Kumar continued, “From cooking residue to paints, varnishes and fungal spores, the air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than that outside.”
If the thought of breathing in fungal spores and varnishes doesn’t make you want to take a walk outside and get some fresh air, we’re not sure what will.
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