Nature’s alarm clock is ringing

By Peter Pfeffer

alarmDo you ever wonder why it feels so good to get outside?

We have a lot of strange names for the claustrophobic, cooped-up feelings common this time of year – seasonal affective disorder, spring fever, and my favorite, cabin fever.

It’s that stuffy feeling relieved by changing the sheets, shaking rugs and cracking the windows…even at 45 degrees.

There’s something interesting about temperature swings. In the fall, after 50-degree mornings, a 75-degree afternoon feels glorious, and we cling to it knowing winter is on the way. In the spring, the pattern is reversed. A 30-degree day that would make us groan and shiver in the fall evokes open windows, car washes and no coat.

So why does the change of temperature in the spring feel so good? Well one of the therapies for cabin fever is getting out and interacting with nature. Studies show that humans problem solve, have less stress, learn and thrive in an outdoor environment.

There has to be more to it. Why do those first bright days and warm temps have us out in shorts and sunglasses?

I’ll be the science guy for a second and report that our natural circadian rhythms (our body’s craving for balance between light and dark) are affected positively by lengthening days. Other studies demonstrate our brain waves, the alpha waves that spark creativity, are also positively affected by being outdoors.

Now, science hat off and doctor hat on, I’ll tell you humans need to move. We don’t have a genetic defense against sitting still. In fact, many health problems stem from a sedentary lifestyle. Making changes in our posture and surroundings is healthy for us.

Most animals, humans included, are attentive to change. A change in surroundings could be a signal of danger or opportunity. Our brains are wired to note these changes and respond.

The fresh air, warm temps, sounds of birds, and bright colors are signals of change that call to us. They’re like nature’s alarm clock, waking us from hibernation. Until recent history, we were creatures that lived and worked in the outdoors. Now we spend most of our days inside in settings that can be stressful, regardless of how comfortable.

So if you are itching to get outside, it’s normal, and the outdoors is good for you! I’ll see you out there. I’ll be the one in shorts and sunglasses.

Sources: Berman, Marc G.; John Jonides, Stephen Kaplan (2/18/2008). “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature”. Psychological Science 19 (12): 1207–1212. Brain Rules, John Medina, Ph.D. 2008. Smart Moves, Carla Hanaford, P.hD. 2005

Peter Pfeffer is a doctor of chiropractic with HealthSource Chiropractic and Progressive Rehab in Alexandria.

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