Come Rain or Shine

The life you were born to lead: Welcome to The Outdoors!

 Muddy, squishy, uneven and sometimes even smelly: the countryside is full of scary obsticles for ‘townies’, yet it also offers nourishment for both body and soul!

It’s all too easy to think of outdoor activity as something special, as a small subsection of our lives that we associate with holidays, summertime BBQs, some sports and not a lot else. Yet stop and think for a moment. For most of the time humans have been on the planet, there was no such thing as ‘inside’ to come outside from.

In common with all creatures, humans were born to live outdoors. Sure, we may have retreated into caves at night or erected makeshift shelters to protect ourselves from inclement weather, but we were still essential outdoors at all times, uninsulated from nature and the environment around us.

Now look at us. For our convenience and comfort the closest some of us get to our primal roots is when we elect to sit in the pub garden for lunch.

You might well wonder what effects such a sudden and radical change in human’s basic living conditions might cause. Could it all be sunshine and roses? Is it possible to lead a totally comfortable, air-conditioned lifestyle indoors without there being any sort of a downside?

The Instinctive Fitness message is that we tamper with evolutionary patterns at our peril. As soon as there is a sudden shift in human behaviour or environment (for example the switch from hunter-gathering to grains), we can expect to find at least as many negatives as positives. How we balance these things out becomes the Instinctive Fitness challenge, where we must weight practicality against principles;

We have known for some time that people who rarely see sunlight (perhaps because they live inside the Arctic circle in winter or, more likely, because they have an office job) suffer from low levels of Vitamin D. UVB rays from the sun interact with cholesterol in our skin to produce what is actually an essential hormone affecting the functioning of our whole body.

Moreover, the right amount of sunlight is essential for building stronger bones and fighting osteoporosis, assisting fat loss, raising testosterone levels, strengthening the immune system, reducing inflammatory conditions and improving psychological wellbeing.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has been well documented as a phenomenon affecting those who see little sunlight during the winter months. It has been hypothesised that this may account for the unusually high numbers of suicides in Scandinavia, even though these countries enjoy the highest standards of living in the world. Summer holidays do more than just offer rest and change; they also allow us to top-up our Vitamin D levels and shift our hormonal balance in a favourable direction.

Avoiding sun burn to lower the risk of skin cancer is essential, but hiding from sunlight entirely and only venturing outdoors occasionally – and then only slathered in Factor 40 sun block – makes no sense at all. Only by regularly getting large areas of skin exposed to moderate levels of UVB light can your body function at its best.

Recently, reports have begun to emerge that while protecting the skin, sun cream with too high a factor may actually be damaging children’s health. Rickets, a disease that makes bones malleable and which was once thought to have been banished from this country, is increasingly popping up again on the healthcare radar. Caused again by a lack of Vitamin D, rickets was common place in the smog-shrouded, sun-deprived cities of the 19th century. Today, fearful parents won’t let their children out of the house, or when they do they’re smothered from head to foot in factor 50 which reflects much of the sun’s vitamin forming rays.

Long before we shackled ourselves to the clock and the ‘working day’, ancient humans would surely have behaved like all the other animals: rising early with sun, doing their day’s hunting and gathering when the day was cool, and taking shelter as the sun climbed in the sky to avoid dehydration and sunburn. They wouldn’t have had the need of the farmer to toil all day in the fields, but instead would have enjoyed a shorter working day surrounded by nature’s bountiful larder.

Without sun cream, the fear of sunshine or the pressure to wear sun cream, they would surely have enjoyed a deep year-round tan, built up slowly and carefully over a lifetime.

In terms of the outdoor life, humans developed in various different environments, but all of them were natural rather than man-made. We are more relaxed and in-touch with ourselves in natural surroundings. Physical contact with nature and animals gives us a sense of reconnecting with something that is painfully missing in the artificial banality of urban life.

Take home message: you need nature and sunshine to thrive. Get away from urban life and enjoy sunshine sensibly in a natural environment whenever possible.