One question that people often ask themselves is why is there more illness in winter than there is in summer? This question is even more relevant today and in the era of the COVID-19 PANDEMIC, can be reformulated as: “why is the pandemic more serious in winter than it is in summer (i.e second wave)?
What seems like a joke may actually find some serious answers in our daily life: we spend more time indoors in the winter, which exposes us to germs, bacteria and viruses. Kids especially spend more time indoors, whether in day care or in school, and the indoors conditions allow germs to spread easily.
Spending time outdoors in presence of clean and fresh air might then be safer and more beneficial to health than spending time indoors. Now, the reflection above leads us to ask ourselves what benefits a clean fresh air brings to our body health.
“We spend more time indoors in the winter, which exposes us to germs, bacteria and viruses...”
Physical health and Air Quality
Our body needs oxygen for its functioning, and there is no better source of oxygen than a clean outdoors.
In fact, staying indoors with less oxygen causes the body to constantly seek fresh air, which leads to exhaustion. As the lungs take in more fresh air, the oxygen levels in the blood go up. Higher oxygen levels mean more of it circulates to the brain, which helps us feel energized.
Therefore, spending time outdoors, in a presence of fresh air creates better conditions for the body to perform at its best. After a few hours in the office, there is no doubt to the boost the body gets while stepping outside for a few minutes, especially in a green space.
Research found that living close to, or spending time in green space reduced the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increased sleep duration.
Emotional health and Air Quality
Rumination is the process of continuously thinking about the same thoughts, which tend to be sad or dark; it is a process that often leads to negative self-thoughts and in some cases suicide.
A study suggests that a walk in nature as compared to a walk in urban areas, contributed largely to the reduction of anxiety and rumination, and an increase in serotonin, the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. So a walk in nature provides a feeling of joy and happiness. It is not a surprise that spending time in the forest may contribute to the reduction of stress and to an improvement of the mood.
Moreover, the same study showed that the walk in nature improved cognitive performances. The fresh air brings to the body enough oxygen available for the brains, which improves the ability to concentrate and remember information. Another study conducted in New York revealed that employees that worked in a room with carbon dioxide levels similar to the outdoors concentration performed better than when these carbon dioxide levels were elevated or different from the external conditions. Furthermore, students have been reported to fall asleep in class due to poor air quality and high carbon dioxide levels, leading to low academic performances.
“The fresh air brings to the body enough oxygen available for the brains, which improves the ability to concentrate and remember information”.
Sleep Time, Quality Sleep and Air Quality
Have you ever felt sleepy for a while (even after shower and breakfast) after starting your day? That’s not uncommon.
The human body has an internal biological time also known as circadian clock. Exposure to sunlight produces the “melatonin”, a hormone responsible for sleep. However, spending more time indoors reduces the exposure to natural sunlight, therefore disturbing the secretion of melatonin.
Research has shown that the built environment and the electrical lights are responsible for this disruption and have delayed the circadian clock for about two hours. That is why even after waking up, the body keeps producing melatonin and creates that sleepy feel.
A logical question that comes up is how to fix that biological clock disruption problem? Thanks to a study conducted by the same researchers from the University of Boulder in Colorado, we know that a week in the summer camping without telephone and electrical light could regulate the internal biological clock.
Participants to the research spent a week-long camping outdoors in absence of electrical light and telephones, and results suggested that after enough exposure to sunlight, the participants fell asleep two hours earlier as compared to the control group that stayed in the city. After all, who wouldn’t want to sleep under the fresh mountain air in the forest? Camping outdoors may certainly revitalize the body and the mind, but there is scientific evidence that the sleep we get in urban built environments is altered.
What if we created outdoors conditions indoors?
Now that we know the importance of clean fresh air, and the difference between the time spent outdoors versus indoors, we might think of reproducing the external environmental conditions inside. The benefits of promoting our body’s physical and emotional health while spending the time inside would be tremendous. Is it even possible? Even though we can’t recreate the forest or the natural green space inside, there are some steps we can take that can improve our indoors living conditions.
The first step would be to make sure our indoors get enough fresh air, either from a mechanical ventilation system (generally in big buildings) if it exists, or from controlled windows opening. A good way to ensure that the indoors conditions are good enough is through the monitoring of air quality. Air quality indicators provide concentration levels of particles in the air, such as the carbon dioxide, the particulate matters (PM), as well as humidity and temperature.
Another way to improve air quality indoors is through the use of advanced solutions such as “TakeAir”, which uses biospheric ventilation. This process promotes the creation of outdoors conditions by incorporating beneficial microorganisms into the air, while eliminating viruses and pathogens. One can only imagine the impacts of such solutions on physical and emotional health, all day long. So to the initial question of why there was more sickness in winter than in summer, air quality should be the first suspect to look at.
- Confiance Mfuka