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Staying Healthy: Nature vs. Medicine

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

To maintain your health, both physical and mental, spend time outdoors each day, enjoy the sunshine. You might be interested to know that being in the sun regulates our bodies, helping us to stay awake in the daytime and sleep during the night. This is called the circadian rhythm. Having some direct exposure to sunlight also activates Vitamin D production in our bodies. This vitamin is crucial to maintain strong bones, and it also stimulates the brain to produce serotonin, a chemical which naturally improves mood. That is why some individuals suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in the winter when there is less sunlight.

 Maximize your time outdoors by dressing in layers. You can exercise by taking a walk, gardening, or playing a sport such as golf or tennis. As you feel warmer, you are then able to peel off a layer of clothing so that you feel more comfortable. Between the lovely weather and moving your body, you have increased both your physical and mental well-being!

Do you ever feel a sense of calmness when you spend time at a lake or ocean, or take a walk in a wooded area? According to the American Journal of Public Health, people experience a reduction of depression and/or anxiety by going to these places. In fact, exercising in nature, even for a short period of time, can boost both your mood and self-esteem. Merely being in a green space, such as a park, and away from screens (such as computers, tablets, or TVs), helps your eyesight and decreases attention fatigue, while improving patience and the ability to think clearly.

The message is to prioritize taking time to spend outdoors, whether you exercise or just take time to smell the roses. The sun is so beneficial, but please remember to wear sunscreen. In this way, you can maximize your efforts to support and improve your health in a most natural manner!

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at mc333@cornell.edu.

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