Take advantage of the outdoors

Jonathan Swinton, USU Extension

As we warm up through the summer, we have great opportunities to help our mental health. As many of us have taken appropriate and helpful precautions during this COVID-19 outbreak, it would help each of us to spend a little time outside.

There are several factors that can make a difference to your mental health by going outside. First is exercise. Exercise may be the most helpful thing one can do to help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. Summertime is ripe with good weather that will support physical activity. If you can get your heart rate up for 15 to 30 minutes a day you will feel the positive effects.

Vitamin D deficiencies are unfortunately common, especially through the colder months of the year. Mood often improves for many in the warmer months because sun exposure is key to vitamin D production. You don’t need a great deal of time outside to maximize vitamin D production. Ten minutes should do it, and you don’t need to sunbathe. Sun exposure should still follow the recommendations of your physician to protect against sunburn and skin cancer.

Research has also shown how the visible brightness of the sun while outside is associated with improved mental health symptoms. When struggling with mental health, it is common for you to isolate and prefer the dark inside. Anything you can do to nudge yourself outside will help you feel a bit better as you are surrounded by the brightness of the sun. If you are feeling a bit down, go outside and forgo the sunglasses.

We are lucky to live in such a sunny place that is ripe with outdoor opportunities. Take advantage of them for your mental health. Please also follow appropriate social distancing and use of facemasks if activity places you in proximity of other people. Doing so will protect you and others from the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Swinton is a relationship and mental health expert with Utah State University Extension in Sevier County.

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