Originally created 08/31/99

Sunshine, fresh air improve mood



Q: Do you have any easy and inexpensive suggestions for improving bad moods? -- Y.B., Edgefield

A: Many people would advise you to escape from the rigors of life with a cup of warm tea and a long hot bath. Others would prescribe a trip to the Bahamas -- complete with umbrellas in the drinks. Some might suggest a new pet, but I have something easier and less expensive than any of these: Just step outside.

You might think I'm crazy, but I think you will enjoy a significantly better mood when you enjoy the outdoors. You don't have to spend a week camping to enjoy the benefits of fresh air, warm sunshine and blue skies. In fact, scientists have collected information to prove that taking some time in the sun is good for you.

First of all, stepping outside offers an opportunity for exercise. J. Larry Durstine, director of clinical exercise programs at the University of South Carolina Columbia, believes that there are advantages to exercising outdoors.

"Outside, there are no boundaries -- your body and mind are free to roam," Dr. Durstine says. "You get a sense of liberation and openness. These feelings foster a positive, optimistic attitude that infuses your whole day."

It also has been determined that you receive a better workout when you exercise outdoors. Natural inclines and declines that are only found outside help you build muscle tone and improve your balance.

Simply absorbing the sun will improve your mood. It's been proven that those who are exposed to dark environments for long periods of time will experience SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. This disorder is characterized by serious bouts of depression or general feelings of gloom.

It has recently been speculated that the sun may boost the immune system. In a Canadian health study, patients who had hospital beds in sunny rooms recovered more quickly and were able to return home sooner than those who did not. Sunshine also provides valuable Vitamin D, which your skin produces when you absorb the rays.

Of course, if you plan to be outside for extended periods, remember to use sunscreen and cover up. And if you are outside between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Without enough water, you place yourself at risk for heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

Taking a journey outside is generally risk-free, financially sound and offers a wonderful way to boost your mood.

If you have a question or would like more information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.