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HEALTH AND PSYCHOLOGY

Stroll outside even in this cold weather, researchers advice

Exposure to sunshine has a positive impact on mental health and mood.

In Summary

• People need to spend at least 30 minutes outside even in cold seasons.

• This offers an explanation for why some healthy people experience low mood and energy in the cold, and why there is a regular reoccurrence of depressive episodes to some vulnerable individuals.

June and July are pretty cold in Kenya with most people preferring to be tucked inside blankets or stay indoors with a cup of hot beverage.

A new research by the University of Michigan says regardless of the cold outside, going for a walk for at least 30 minutes can impact your mental health in a positive way.

Taking a trip to someplace warm in the middle of a cold season can be especially beneficial.

Exposure to sunshine also has a positive impact on mental health and mood.

This can also cause pleasant weather improving mood and memory and broaden cognitive style openness to new information and creative thoughts.

"If you wish to reap the psychological benefits of good sunny weather on a dull day, go outside,'' the researchers said.

They found that time spent outside increased during hotter weather compared to cold weather.  

"Being outside in pleasant weather offers a way to reset your mindset,'' Matthew Keller, the post-doctoral researcher who led the psychology study said.

"Everyone thinks weather affects mood but the biggest tests of this theory in 2000 found no relationship, so we went back and found there are two important variables: how much time you spend outside and what the season is. If you go from winter to spring and spend enough time outside, there's a noticeable change."

The findings, completed by a team that also included U-M social psychology professors Barbara Frederickson and Oscar Ybarra, will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

In one study they conducted, participants who were randomly assigned to be outdoors during warm and sunny days showed improved mood and memory compared to participants who were outside when the weather was not pleasant and compared to participants who spent the time inside.

The impact of weather on mood and cognition has been difficult to demonstrate because people in industrialized countries, on average, spend 93 per cent of their time indoors, making them largely disconnected from the impact of changing weather outside.

This offers an explanation on why some healthy people experience low mood and energy in the cold, and why there is a regular re-occurrence of depressive episodes in some vulnerable individuals.

For the weather to improve mood, subjects needed to spend at least 30 minutes outside in warm, sunny weather.

Contrary to their initial expectations, researchers found that spending time indoors when the weather outside was the pleasant decreased mood and narrowed cognitive style.

They suspected this was perhaps because people resent being cooped up indoors when the weather becomes better in the sunny days or perhaps because improved weather can make normal indoor activities feel boring or irritating.

The researchers note that it should not be surprising that weather and seasons affect human behavior, given that humans have evolved with seasonal and weather changes since the dawn of the species.