Why It's So Good to Eat Outside

You probably know there are plenty of pros to stepping outside if you want to relax or exercise. Turns out there are terrific reasons to head outdoors when you eat a meal, as well.

To be clear, it won't do you good if you end up on a balcony overlooking a traffic-clogged street that sends car fumes your way. Instead, try to find a greener space. It might be a patch of grass in a park or a picnic table under a tree.

Numerous studies clearly show that it reduces stress for us to be outdoors. Health and wellness author, Mitra Malek, says this:

First and foremost, food tastes better-and you digest it more easily. Eating outdoors is calming and mitigates the stresses of the day. When we're stressed, we aren't paying attention to what we're eating, we just don't enjoy it as much and therefore we aren't going to digest as well.

That's a proven physiological fact. Scientists have found that eating in the fresh open air stimulates mindfulness and even simple things are enjoyed more. In other words, a hot dog is as good an experience as filet mignon!

Next, as mentioned, there's heightened mindfulness. Concentration increases and there's more focus on the experience of the environment, the meal, and those with whom you're eating. Although, to be real, this won't be true if you're tapping away on your cell phone or computer. Leave those behind (or at least ignore them), and let nature work its wonders on you.

Then there's the increased absorption or production of vitamin D. As long as the sun is out and you're not covered in clothes or sunscreen, your body's production of vitamin D will kick in. Sunlight hitting your skin is key to getting the process going. You need only 10 to 15 minutes a few days a week to meet your weekly vitamin D needs, according to Harvard Medical School.

And since very few foods have significant amounts of vitamin D, eating outdoors is an exceptional habit on this front. Vitamin D builds and maintains strong bones, helping prevent osteoporosis. Studies also suggest sunlight can protect against cancer, depression, heart attacks and stroke.

So all the above considered, it's understandable then, that eating outdoors amps up your immune system. Much research has been done on why nature does positive things for the immune system. Scientists found that antimicrobial substances that trees and plants give off, called phytoncides, likely deserve credit for immune-strengthening.

These benefits to eating outside make me want to do way more of it. How about you? There are lots of approaches to eating outdoors. Besides the home deck or patio, there are options away from home. We call these picnicking.

If you decide to head away from home, then there's a little more planning required. Have you found, like me, that if you're prepared and organized you tend to do more picnicking? Way back when I figured this out, I decided to always keep a picnic-ready basket in my pantry. Then we found a small, portable barbecue, some hot dog skewers, and some old blankets and put them in the car trunk.

I also made sure we had a stash of favorite foods on hand, such as flavored sparkling waters, hot dogs and buns, healthy chips, celery and carrot sticks, lots of fresh fruit, marshmallows, Rollos, and sugar cookies (in the freezer).

Speaking of marshmallows, Rollos, and sugar cookies, one of our favorite eating-outdoors treats is a take on the traditional s'mores. Rather than graham crackers, we use sugar cookies. And rather than Hershey's chocolate bars, we use mashed Rollos (we like caramel with our chocolate). Add that toasted marshmallow, and yum!

Those two steps made it so much easier to indulge in summertime outings, and we've been following this habit ever since. And one of the nicest things about this approach is how much more inclined we are to jump on a spur-of-the-moment picnic opportunity. Now I know we've not just had lots of fun, we were also improving our health. Who knew?

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author! alice@dvo.com

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