Functional Medicine: Connects to the Outdoors
By Dr. Cynthia Crosser
The typical American spends only 5% of
his or her time outside. This includes
our children, many of whom no longer
have those few minutes of recess and play
video games or glare at social media at
night. The days of kids playing in their
nearby woods and creeks and riding bikes
are, sadly, gone. The anxiety, insomnia,
hypertension, addiction, and loneliness
linked to a lack of outdoor activity has
been termed “nature-deficit disorder.”
Living in this new world is causing all
sorts of health problems. Many of our
chronic ailments-nearsightedness, Vitamin
D deficiency, obesity, and depression are
all made worse by time spent indoors.
Breathe in fresh air, feel warm sunshine, visualize the sparkle of the sun on a lake, approach an incredible vista to feel why the challenge of hiking and being outdoors is so rewarding and calming to the body. After 15 minutes in nature, blood pressure is lowered, stress hormones drop, and your thinking brain gives way to your sensory brain. David Strayer, Ph.D. Of the University of Utah, coined the term “the three day effect” given that that is how long it takes for the brain to calm and rest in the outdoors.
Even opening the windows brings in a little dirt which helps the microbial diversity indoors which is beneficial for our immune systems. Outdoor activities provide our reprieve from indoor pollution from the plethora of indoor chemicals such as volatile organic compounds in our furniture, carpets, and air fresheners which cause hormonal and respiratory compromise.
Here are some ways that we can all do to get outdoors such as:
- Eat your lunch outside.
- If you have a dog, take longer, more frequent walks together.
- Tune in to wildlife; it calms the fightor- flight instinct.
- Plant and maintain a garden.
- Drink your morning coffee outdoors.
As a hiking, biking, and backpacking
leader with the Appalachian Mountain
Club, I’ve developed a love of being
outdoors all year round. Embracing
winter with snowshoeing, cross country
skiing, backpacking, and hiking yearround
provides for exercise, plenty of
sunshine (and sometimes rain!), and a
fair amount of socialization as well. Being
outdoors and “off the grid” provides for
a true sense of calmness. Combine that
with a campfire alongside a waterfall deep
in the wilderness and one is sure to be
recharged after several days with friends
and plenty of exercise. There are so many
different types of hikes for people at all
levels of ability. HIKE FOR HEALTH was
started as a way for people to get outdoors
and hike safely with those of us who
do this on a regular basis. AMC has 12
chapters and over 100,000 members from
Maine through southern Virginia and is
a conservation organization that hosts
different outdoor activities throughout
Dr. Cynthia Crosser is on the Executive Committee of the Delaware Valley Chapter and is the Backpacking Chair mentoring new leaders. For more information as to how to get into the outdoors please contact us at 302-994- 1010. There is a world of fun to be had if you know where to go and how to be safe!! Your body will love you for it!