What if you stopped going outside?

What if you stopped going outside?
  • Why do we encourage you to get outdoors and into nature?  Let’s answer that question by flipping it on its head:  What if you stopped going outside?

Sun Power

The first critical thing that happens when you stop going outdoors is sunlight stops hitting you.  It’s all well and good that you aren’t getting sunburned and having that sunburn develop into cancer, but in fact,  by staying indoors you are increasing your risk of cancer.  Here’s what happens.

Ever wonder why total cholesterol was once considered in the normal range at 300, but now normal is considered much lower? Well, the “healthy” range declined when drug manufacturers found ways to lower cholesterol. Coincidence? I think not.

When you eat foods like meat and eggs that have cholesterol in them, some of that cholesterol ends up in your skin.  When the sun hits your skin the mixture of cholesterol and ultraviolet radiation (UVB) from the sun creates vitamin D3.  That’s why vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin.  Even with vitamin D fortified milk and cereals,  80 to 90% of your vitamin D comes from this process.

D3 moves in your blood to your liver where it is converted into calcidiol.  The calcidiol moves on to your kidneys where it is converted to calcitriol, the active ingredient in sun power.

That calcitriol helps your body absorb calcium from the food you eat and direct it to your bones.  If you stopped going outside, you would stop this whole process and you would have:

  • weaker bones (osteoporosis),
  • softer bones (osteomalacia) or
  • bone pain (also osteomalacia).

Relaxing On The BeachAlready have these ailments?  Well, you can make the connection.

That same vitamin D process has been found to enhance your immune function.  If you stopped going outdoors you’d be:

  • a lot sicker,
  • sick more often,
  • have continuous bouts of colds and flu and
  • be at much higher risk of cancer (pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate, skin and other cancers)
  • at risk for heart disease and
  • depressed.

Getting into the sun is especially critical in the winter in cold climates when days are shorter and its harder to get your skin exposed to sunshine.  The sun has to be above the horizon by 50 degrees or the critical UVB rays will be blocked by the atmospheric ozone layer.  If the sun doesn’t get that high where you live, particularly in the winter, you can try oral vitamin D (see below).  Studies show that 85% of the people in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin D and it’s even worse among seniors of whom 95% are deficient!  So let’s get more vitamin D!

Dr. Joel Kahn, professor of medicine at Wayne State University, writing in Reader’s Digest (August 2014) noted that people with the lowest exposure to the sun seem to have the highest blood pressure.  He notes that this may be due to lack of nitric oxide and says: “Nitric oxide makes arteries resist contraction, plaque, and blood clotting, reducing both heart attack and stroke risks.”  Guess what – exposure to the sun increases your body’s production of nitric oxide.

Sun Without Sunburn OR Sunscreen

After sunscreen was invented, the manufacturers convinced nearly all of us that we should lather it on to protect our skin from sunburn.  That, we were told, would help prevent skin cancers.  It’s a handy concept for marketers, but it doesn’t exactly work that way.  Sunscreens block the sun that hits your skin, particularly the UVB rays that are so critical to your health.  You might as well stay inside and develop the same ailments I just described − including cancer.

Still, you want to avoid sunburn because it can damage your cells and may lead to cancer.  So, what to do?

WebMD says: “Exposure of the hands, face, arms, and legs to sunlight two to three times a week for about one-fourth of the time it would take to develop a mild sunburn will cause the skin to produce enough vitamin D. The necessary exposure time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, etc.”
You want to get plenty of sunshine, but not too much.  You can get that the vitamin D you need by exposing 40% of your body to sunlight for 20 minutes between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm when the sun is high in the sky (very roughly). Alternatively, get out of the sun as soon as your skin starts to show the slightest bit of pink.  You can get out of the sun while staying outside by applying sunscreen, by putting on enough clothes to block the sun from your skin or by just getting into the shade.

I personally wear some great long-sleeved shirts from Duluth Trading Company.  They are designed for hot weather with great ventilation and sleeves that roll up, and stay rolled up, until I want to roll them down.  I also wear a broad-brimmed hat that shades my face and neck.  A baseball cap doesn’t work.  If you like to wear shorts,  you can find pants with zip-off legs,  When it’s time to cut off the sun, just zip the legs back on.

If you are into pills or live where the sun doesn’t get above 50 degrees in the sky for parts of the year, the most recent research reveals that adults need about 8,000 IU’s of oral vitamin D3 per day.  But be careful what you buy, D3 is about 87 percent more effective than D2.  NatureWise Vitamin D3 is an economical and very high quality option – and it’s made in the U.S.A.

Certain foods provide some vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol).  For example, per 100 gram serving:

  • raw halibut (doesn’t sound too appetizing to me) provides 1,096 IU
  • Canned salmon 860 IU (you’d have to eat over 2 pounds a day to get 8000 IUs)
  • Fortified cereals 332 IU
  • Egg yolk 216 IU

When it comes to vitamin D3 in foods, you need to eat a lot to get sufficient D3 in your diet.  You may have seen mushrooms advertised as providing vitamin D.  They do, but it’s vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol) so it’s not as effective in your body as D3.  Here are how mushrooms stack up in the Vitamin D2 race (per 100 gram serving):

  • maitake 1124 IU
  • portabella  (same as brown button or crimini mushrooms) 524 IU

In general portabella, crimini, brown button and white button mushrooms (the most common in stores today) have relatively little vitamin D2 compared to species that are grown it light.  It seems that mushrooms produce vitamin D2 when they are exposed to UV light.  To make up for what these mushrooms lack, some growers expose them to artificial UV light just before shipping to increase their vitamin D levels.  Still you need to eat a lot of mushrooms, especially after accounting for the fact that they contain D2 rather than D3,  to make up for what you can get by exposing yourself to sunshine.

Nature Power

“Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families and communities.” Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods.

A few years back, Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder.”  Since then, researchers have shown that being outdoors in a natural setting has positive physical and mental effects leaning toward mental stability, empathy and love.  Staying indoors or even getting outdoors in the city leans more toward fear and stress.

I’ll be writing more on stress in a future article, but we all know that being stessed and living in fear is bad for us.  Without sunshine and contact with nature, stress builds. It’s what we get if we stay indoors.

The solution, of course, is to get outside in a natural setting. It doesn’t have to be a National Park, any park will do. If you can get close to a river or lake, the positive effect is that much greater.

The Power of Movement

TV in BedThink about what you do if you stay indoors all the time.  Mostly I sit in front of my computer writing these articles.  You might lay in bed, sit in front of a TV, play video games or whatever.  The bottom line is you tend to move much less when you are indoors.  What does that get us?

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Death (much sooner than we would like)

Add up all the ailments associated with staying indoors and see if that doesn’t convince you to get outdoors more.

The Power to Control Our Lives

Staying indoors does not paint a pretty picture for our lives.  The only solution is to get outdoors and get moving.  If you need ideas and motivation, I strongly recommend that you join the Discover Club at EXPLORE! the eMagazine for Adventure and Exploration.  When you sign up, for free, you can elect to get every-other-day emails about outdoor topics and a Friday email filled with outdoor news.  You also get free access to several books that will help you get going.  Did I mention, it’s all FREE?

More Information

The Children and Nature Network has compiled some of the research studies upon which this article is based. You can find them at the C&NN Research and Resources page.  Hat tip to the people at AsapScience.  Their video helped me organize this story.  Here’s their video version:

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5 Comments

  1. Very interesting! Easy to read and enjoyable! Thanks for all of your research, I learned a lot.

  2. Great article! Very informative! I live in northern Canada and I am sorely lacking Vit D and certainly feel the negative effects of the lack of such a vitamin. What brand of Vit D would you recommend?

  3. Hi Christina,

    I don’t take Vitamin D so I can’t speak to how different company’s products might work. However, I did some research and found that NatureWise is an economical source of D3. These are less than $35 for 350 soft gels – so almost a year’s supply. Not only that, but they are certified organic and made in the U.S. NatureWise is based in Ashland, Oregon,just across the Cascades from where I live. 5,000 IU should be a decent daily dose based upon the latest research.

    Click the ad in the right side bar to learn more.

    If you try adding Vitamin D, I would like to get your feedback. Just drop another comment here. Thanks!
    -Jerry-

  4. Dear Jerry,
    I think this article is very important and it is crucial to a speech I am writing!Literally I have not found information this accurate about the topic on any other website or database! However when I am trying to quote you and not plagerize it is kind of really weird to say according to Jerry in a 2015 article from power to explore.com … My question is what is your last name?

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