Spring is here and we are closing in on summer. After 2 months of social distancing and saying at home, everyone needs some fresh air and open space. But heading outside has never felt so fraught with uncertainty, with “safer at home” measures still in place. Getting outside can still be done safely, with social distancing in mind. Plus, there are benefits of getting out into the sunshine. For the month of May, we are doing a Get Outside Campaign on Instagram.
Sunshine is Good for Your Health
Getting out in the sun won’t prevent you from getting coronavirus or cure coronavirus, but getting 5-15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face three times a week can improve your health. Here are a few ways sunshine is good for your health.
It Improves Your Mood and Outlook. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina of the eye, which triggers the release of serotonin. Serotonin is also known as the “happiness hormone”. Moderate amounts of sunshine each day help improve your mood and focus by boosting levels of serotonin in your blood. Even if it doesn’t improve your mood today, daily doses of sunshine can decrease the risk of developing depression for those at risk. This can be particularly important as we are more isolated during social distancing.
It Lowers Blood Pressure. When sunlight hits your skin, your body releases nitric oxide into your blood. Nitric oxide brings down blood pressure, thereby cutting the risk of stroke and heart disease. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2020 looked at nearly 300,000 patients in dialysis centers. They concluded that UV radiation is associated with lower systolic blood pressure and raises the possibility that insufficient sunlight is a risk factor for hypertension.
It Helps Strengthen Your Bones and Your Immune System. Vitamin D is a hormone that promotes calcium absorption and is essential for bone growth. Vitamin D found in our body requires activation, and sunlight helps convert inactive Vitamin D to active. Additionally, there is evidence that Vitamin D is important in signaling the immune system. Inadequate levels of Vitamin D have been associated with increased rates of infection. While the mechanisms of its action are still not fully understood, a study published by Dr. Holick and colleagues reported that Vitamin D boosts the expression of hundreds of genes that are thought to help regulate immune function. Taking Vitamin D supplementation and getting outside are important aspects of keeping our skeletal system and immune system healthy.
It Improves Sleep. In a time where many of us are restless and may be experiencing difficulty sleeping, getting out in the sun can help. More daylight exposure (particularly in the morning) leads to higher production of melatonin during the night. Melatonin is known as “the sleep hormone”. It has a range of effects on the brain, from improving sleep to lowering stress reactivity and synchronizing your biological clock.
Less Childhood Obesity. Children who spend more time outdoors have improved motor development and lower rates of childhood obesity. Children tend to play harder outdoors than indoors, so they move more, burn more energy, and can even sleep better at night.
Getting Outside While Social Distancing
While we remain in crisis because of COVID-19, it is essential to get outside for our physical and mental health, as well as the physical and mental health of our children. We don’t know when a vaccine will be available or when this pandemic will end. And we know that social distancing recommendations will change over time, so please follow them. This is NOT a comprehensive list by any means, just a few of our favorites!
For infants and high-risk children: Getting outside doesn’t have to mean leaving your property. There are many activities that you can do in your backyard or even on your apartment patio. A few ideas:
Get a deep Tupperware and fill it with water. Add a few drops of blue dye. Find a few plastic animals or mermaids and let your child hold an animal bath!
Plastic animals + white paper + sunshine = fun tracing exercise
Mud. Kids love mud. If you add some cups and bowls and toy animals, all of a sudden you can have hours of messy fun. We will even put our small dinosaurs into a mud ball, let it dry in the sun and then “excavate” them back out.
Don’t underestimate the fun of washing windows and painting a stained-glass decoration on a clean window.
Journal. Journaling can include writing, drawing pictures, expressing gratitude, or helping your kids express their emotions. You can find a sunny or shady spot to sit and journal with your child while enjoying a snack or listening to your favorite music.
Create a fairy garden. A fun activity that allows kids to be creative and engage their imagination. And you don’t have to leave your backyard or patio.
Go for a neighborhood walk or bike ride.
Go hiking or mountain biking. We live in Colorado, so the mountains are right here. But you don’t have to be near the mountains. Find a local trail or park to explore.
Play ball - kickball, soccer, basketball, catch, bocci ball… you name it! Kids love playing games and this is a great opportunity to get outside and play ball with your kids. You could even teach them a new sport.
Pirate Treasure Hunt or Scavenger Hunt. My kids love setting up and participating in scavenger hunts around the house and backyard. We make clues and little puzzles or riddles to solve. This can be varied according to the age of your kids. Older kids can get quite elaborate with riddles and maps and clues. While for the younger kids, the clues can be much more simple (“go where you take a bath” or “find something blue on your dresser”). The end “treasure” can be a treat or art project or bubbles or extra screen time. It is also a way to sneak in some learning by having them reading clues or using math to solve problems to get the next clue.
Go camping in the backyard
Cookout on the grill for dinner.
S’Mores for dessert
Be sure to turn your sprinklers off!
Dark Sky Stargazing - We love the SkyView Lite app (for both Android and iOS platforms) and Sky Safari Pro. Here is a nice write up of many star-gazing apps. Take your phone and point it to the sky and the app tells you which constellations and stars you are seeing. You can do this in your backyard, or after driving to a more secluded spot.