Come outside: why fresh air is essential
Did you know that fresh air could make you happier? With many of us spending the bulk of our time in stuffy offices throughout the week, it can be difficult to ensure that we get outside, get moving and get some fresh air into our lungs.
However, with health benefits aplenty, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough fresh air. Here are just some of the benefits that fresh air can have for your body.
Wake up and smell the roses!
Stop for a minute and take a deep breath; quite literally. Research shows that exposing your lungs to fresh air, and the scents of flowers and plants, can help to relieve stress and anxiety. Oxygen is thought to affect the levels of serotonin released in the body, in turn, contributing to feelings of happiness and relaxation.
While you may be familiar with the smell of lavender, you might not realise that it can also be beneficial in helping relieve insomnia, anxiety and stress. This is also true of jasmine, which has been shown to boost mood, along with the smells of freshly cut grass, roses, rosemary and peppermint.
Whether it means popping into the garden to mow the lawn or a weekend expedition to a woodland retreat, immersing yourself in the great outdoors could help to put a smile on your face.
A report led by the Royal College of Physicians shows that 40,000 deaths in the UK can be attributed to exposure to outdoor air pollution. The College also found that living in polluted hotspots may play a role in many major health issues, including cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, obesity and even dementia.
Exposing your lungs to polluted air can cause them to work harder, so it makes sense that fresh air can help those who suffer from high blood pressure, by increasing oxygen levels in the bloodstream.
While there isn’t a ‘correct amount’ of fresh air to expose yourself to, as such, the more we get, the more health benefits we may reap. If you’re an urbanite who lives in a polluted city, why not head out into the countryside at the weekend and enjoy a nice walk or a kick-about? Your body will thank you for it!
If you spend a lot of time cooped up at home or in an office, you may find yourself feeling the effects of fatigue. This may not always be due to lack of sleep or hours spent in front of a computer: it may be due to the limited amount of fresh air you have at your disposal with many of us being used to breathing in the impure air that circulates around a confined space.
A series of studies show that visiting your local beach, park or forest could help you increase your energy levels. Richard Ryan, Professor of Psychology at Rochester University, explains that ‘nature is fuel for the soul’:
“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,” he says.
After conducting five separate experiments involving 537 college students, it was concluded that being outside in nature for just 20 minutes a day is enough to significantly boost vitality levels.
So, if you’re looking for a boost of energy, put the coffee down and head outside. If you’re the active type, you could even try exercising outside rather than in the gym, using the extra boost of fresh oxygen to reduce lactic acid build-up.
Often, it can be hard to step away from your desk and get a daily dose of fresh air. In fact, it’s thought that as many as two-thirds of employees aren’t always able to stop work to eat lunch for 20 minutes. Reasons can range from too much work and not enough cover, to the working culture and attitude of the management team. However, when we eat at our desks, it causes the blood supply to divert from the digestive system, instead, supporting the brain so that you can concentrate. For optimum digestion you need to be in a relaxed state, ideally moving around and away from stress.
Taking a stroll allows you to get the fresh air your body needs. It’s also a good time to socialise, gather your thoughts and switch off from work; all of which can do wonders for your health and wellbeing.
We all understand the dangers of smoking, but less of us are aware of the damage that can be inflicted on the lungs of people living in heavily polluted areas. Depending on the type and mix of pollutants, victims’ airways can become irritated, heightening the chances of asthma attacks and even increasing the likelihood of cancer. Air pollution caused by an overabundance of cars and factory smoke can also affect lung development and could lead to heart disease.
Fresh air and coughing can help to remove sputum from the lungs, reduce inflammation and increase airwave space. If you live in a heavily polluted area, you may also want to try and drink two quarts of water (just over two litres) a day to help clear mucus, but make sure to check with your doctor first.
Bolsters immune system
Did you know that exposure to fresh air could help to generate the bacteria needed to fight off harmful pathogens? A pathogen is the first link in the chain of an infection, and the only way they can be stopped is to have a host of good bacteria defending your body. Getting your daily dose of fresh air is sometimes enough to help bolster your immune system and fight off pathogens.
Ather Ali, who works for the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Centre, explained to Health.com: “Exercise leads to an increase in natural killer cells, neutrophils and monocytes, which ultimately increases immune function”.
With outdoor air likely to be less contaminated than the air in your office (there are between 350-400 different substances known to cause work-related asthma) it makes sense to head outside and get active as often as possible.
This article was first published on 14th July 2016.