It’s officially winter, and we all know what that means: Dark days and dreariness. If you live east of the Cascades, you’ve probably already seen lots of snow, and if you live closer to the coast, you know we have months left in our annual rainy season—which could end up being just as cold and wet as it was last winter.
Instead of retreating to your couch and blanket when the weather’s less than desirable, consider braving the elements and finding a park, trail or other outdoor spot to visit. That might seem counterintuitive, since many people in this region experience seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, when our daylight hours grow shorter.
Yes, you’ll need rain gear—and patience—but going outdoors even on icky days could bring health benefits.
“I would encourage people to get out regardless of weather. Even just getting your steps in can be especially important on days that are gray and cold, since physical activity is important for both mental and physical health,” says Pooja Tandon, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine who studies the relationship between physical activity and children’s health.
Tandon and colleagues recently reviewed studies analyzing the many ways exposure to nature can affect health. Research shows that benefits of being in nature range from reduced anxiety and depression to better sleep, eyesight, immune function and better outcomes for people who have chronic conditions like congestive heart failure or ADHD.