Healthy Living

Why Adults Need to Play Outside

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By Dr. Bob Griesse, D.C.
HealthSource of Fairlawn

A few weeks ago I was talking on the phone with a friend while walking around my back yard. With the phone in one hand and my then 4-month-old son in the other, I wasn’t able to do much but scold my older son to prevent him from going after the cayenne peppers growing in our garden. Recently, the two-and-a-half-year-old (who I was scolding) picked one of those peppers and ate half of it before we could stop him. Of course, this resulted in tears and a combination of heavy cream and coconut milk to do whatever we could for the little fire-breather.

The reason I mention this is because it’s one of my favorite things about my neighborhood. Not the pepper, the time in the outside. My neighborhood reminds me of the neighborhoods I grew up in: tall, mature trees; kids riding bikes; and adults out walking with their family and pets. Unfortunately, our neighborhood seems to be an exception nowadays, which is a real shame—not just because of the impact on home values or my sentiment, but because of the impact on our health.

The enjoyment and fascination with being and playing outside is disappearing as fast as Apple and Google are designing their next tech advance. I was lucky to have lived in a time without the internet, not that it’s bad—in fact that’s how many of you will read this—but it’s created an even stronger drive in us to always be productive, always be on-call, always answer emails. People don't see the damage this can do to our health. That has to change.

When we spend all day sitting, staring at screens, and working our tails off, it causes us stress, even if we don’t always “feel stressed.” Research has shown that sitting negatively impacts our metabolism1, raises stress hormones like cortisol, and leads to physical stress, postural changes and degeneration. At this point, it’s not even controversial. I’ve even had colleagues call sitting the new smoking.

The Japanese have a cure for this called Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” which began in the 1980s. The practice is relatively simple and includes taking a short, leisurely, but intentionally therapeutic trip to a forest for a walk with or without wood essential oils (phytoncides)2. In Japan, they have a well-documented and intense working lifestyle, but this recommendation has become an accepted stress relief method in their country. Because it works.

Here’s the tip of the iceberg on the potential benefits of Shinrin-yoku:

  • It reduces blood pressure3- which in turn effects every organ and muscle that receives blood, guess how many muscles and organs receive blood. That’s right all of them
  • It improves mood4
  • It may decrease blood glucose in diabetic patients5
  • Decreases sympathetic nervous system activity and increases parasympathetic activity- in plain English it dampens our fight or flight response and increases the rest and digest response

The next step for all of us is to implement this in our lives. But what if we’re “too busy,” or we have kids, or we live on a postage stamp with no foliage. Well, we have to make some resolutions and at our house we’ve recently gone through and made some new resolutions ourselves. First, let’s all resolve to put down our phones more and encourage our family to do the same. Second, let’s go outside more and if we don’t have a yard that is fit for this type of thing, take advantage of a local park. Third, I want to recommend taking the relaxation and “forest bathing” or “forest therapy” (as it’s known in research) to the next level. Take your shoes and socks off if you haven’t already, and go run around, play tag, climb a tree with your children or friends. Don’t go out always trying to accomplish something either: let nature, God, or your kids lead you into something that we could all use a little more of...happiness.

Note: This is not intended to substitute individual medical advice and please think ahead, because if you get hurt walking around barefoot or climbing a tree I won’t be taking credit.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404815/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_bathing
  3. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017 Aug 16;17(1):409. doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-1912-z
  4. Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2011 Sep;66(4):670-6.
  5. Int J Biometeorol. 1998 Feb;41(3):125-7
  6. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Aug; 13(8): 781