Europeans spend 90% time indoors!

Natural light is intimately related to our mood, so it is not surprising that when a person is lively and cheerful we usually define them as "luminous", nor that in ancient literature it is written that "light is older than love".

Spending time outdoors helps to feel better on all levels, including mentally.

Perhaps that is why autumn is a particularly difficult season when it comes to our mood. In the autumn months - and of course also in the winter - mental health can suffer particularly badly. The recent time change, far from being an anecdote, is a major "blip" for many people who see life on the street fading away. The days are shorter and have less light, and the time we could spend outside, in the fresh air, can be wasted inside a car, on the metro or on a bus.

Autumn, with its colder and darker days, is an invitation to get out of the house less. Home as a false refuge: sofa, HBO and maybe a tea with lemon. Sounds good but only if we combine it with having spent some time outdoors.

Otherwise, our mental health can seriously suffer.

The European Commission estimated in 2003 that Europeans spend, on average, 85-90% of our time indoors. This figure is not unique to Europe. Nature, in a 2001 study, put the percentage of time Americans spend indoors at 87%, and 6% indoors in enclosed vehicles!

Spending time outdoors is a great way to improve our mood and a good way to do this is by changing the way we move around in our daily commute to work, to run errands. Cycling is a great option, as well as helping us to stay active (which helps us to feel better) it "forces" us to spend time outdoors, exploring the natural spaces of our own city and exposing us to natural light.

The importance of natural light

But why is it so important to be in contact with natural light? The scientific answer is that natural light is a synchroniser of the circadian system, which is what sleep is all about. It is important to note that disturbances in sleep cycles are linked to poorer moods in general and directly to depression. We all know that one of the most important factors in getting a good night's sleep is not getting too much light, but what we don't usually express so clearly is the importance of being exposed to natural light during the day.

The most important studies on the subject reveal that at least two hours a day of natural light is the minimum requirement, which in the autumn and winter months and with western lifestyles can be much more difficult than we imagine. However, without this daily "dose" of light, melatonin is not properly synthesised.

If you don't get light during the day, then at night you don't synthesise melatonin, which is a key hormone in the natural sleep cycle. In this sense, we should ideally function as if we were a switch: natural light during the day and darkness at night. If we don't get natural light (and even better if it is directly and not through a window) during the day, we will simply sleep worse. In addition, sunlight also serves to regulate other important hormones that play a key role in our mood, such as serotonin and cortisol.

According to a study published last year in the Journal of Affective Disorders, "the average time spent outdoors each day by more than 400,000 British participants was two and a half hours. Each additional hour was associated with less likelihood of depression and antidepressant use, lower frequency of anhedonia and despondency, less neuroticism and greater self-perceived happiness."

Cycling also invites you to spend more time in natural spaces. And this has a very positive impact on our mental health. According to a study in Nature, spending just two hours a week in natural spaces is linked to "better health and greater general well-being".

All good things for those of us who cycle, so what are you waiting for?


  • Andres said:

    Excelente post!.
    Hay que disfrutar mas de la vida real

    November 14, 2022

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