After this long and snowy winter, it’s safe to say that everyone is looking forward to spring. With warmer weather on the way, make sure to get outside, especially since there is a direct link between outdoor exercise and positive mental health!

Being outdoors has a way of getting people to put more effort into their workout without realizing it, and studies have shown that people tend to exercise more consistently when they are outside, looking forward to their next opportunity. Whether it’s gardening and yardwork, walking the dog or playing outside with the grandkids, it all counts -- even 10-minute increments all add up to the goal of 30 minutes a day. And best of all, it's free! No gym membership needed. Just a good pair of athletic shoes and you're set.

Another benefit of being outside is that direct sunlight provides you an opportunity to get bone-boosting vitamin D, otherwise known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Your body needs vitamin D to process calcium, which therefore promotes bone strength. Spend your time wisely in the sun. Stay hydrated, cover up and use sunscreen to avoid sunburn, especially after the 10 or 15 minutes outside it takes to get your daily dose of vitamin D. You can always wear a hat and sunglasses.

Spending time outside also gives your immune system a boost. The International Journal of Immunopathology found that exposure to airborne chemicals (called phytoncides) that plants and trees emit to protect themselves from fungus, bacteria and insects does our immune system a lot of good. In one study, breathing in phytoncides for two hours provided a 50 percent boost in the production of the natural killer immune cells that help our bodies fight bacteria, viruses and tumors.

Overall, any physical activity can also improve your sleep. Quality sleep is vital for your overall health. Regular activity can help you fall asleep more quickly, sleep more deeply, and help you wake feeling more energetic and refreshed. Napping is fine too, but you should keep your naps to less than one hour per day and preferably before late afternoon.

Staying active overall does amazing things for the brain. Little comes close to the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain, according to many recent studies. It can help brain functions as diverse as multitasking and creativity, and may help prevent memory loss, cognitive decline and dementia. Getting active may even help slow the progression of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. All exercise types are beneficial, including aerobic, strength training and mind-body exercises.

So this spring, get outside and get moving toward a healthier you!

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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