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Go Outdoors For A Half-Hour For Your Health Today!

Spending at least a half-hour a day outdoors during comfortable weather improves your mental health, according to a series of three studies, and supports a whole health philosophy I've followed and recommended for quite some time. Many people thought weather affects one's mood, but large-scale tests found no relationship between the two, according to one researcher.

Instead, scientists found two key variables:

  • How much time one spends outside
  • The season

Taking a trip to someplace warm in the middle of winter or lingering outside when spring arrives can be especially beneficial, with pleasant weather improving mood, memory and broadening cognitive style (openness to new information and creative thoughts) as time spent outside increased, researchers found.

Here's the kicker: Hotter weather during the summer lowered mood levels and the effect of pleasant weather was far less noticeable in other seasons.

A set of three studies involved more than 600 participants from throughout the United States. In one study conducted during the spring in Ann Arbor, participants who were randomly assigned to be outdoors during warm and sunny days showed improved mood and memory compared to those who were outside when the weather was not pleasant and others who spent the time inside.

The impact of weather on mood and cognition has been difficult to demonstrate because people in industrialized countries, on average, spend 93 percent of their time indoors, making them largely disconnected from the impact of changing weather outside.

Researchers also found the optimal temperature for mood for most Americans is 72 degrees (about room temperature), with mood decreasing if temperatures became significantly higher or lower. There were regional differences, however, with mood peaking at 65 degrees in Michigan and 86 degrees in considerably warmer Texas.

With temperatures slowly dropping here in the Midwest and the once wet morning dew chilling into an icy frost more often than not, it's a clear sign winter is approaching. Yet it's still a good idea for your own mental health to spend some time outdoors each day while you can.

When it gets too cold and you can't afford to get away, however, you can compensate in a number of healthy ways:

  • Exercise is known to boost people's moods and is good for depression
  • Get to sleep at a normal hour
  • Stay away for sugary or starchy foods
  • Normalize your omega-3 fats by taking fish oil

Science Daily October 7, 2004

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