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Spending Time in the Great Outdoors When You Have Cancer

Publication: Jewish Outlook

Think about the last time you were outdoors. Did you feel happier, calmer, a sense of peace? Studies have shown being outside can benefit one’s health and well-being, offering opportunities for physical activity while reducing stress and improving mental health. 

For cancer patients, a compromised immune system often requires them to be more cautious of where they spend their time. For many, it means staying indoors, which can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.  

However, spending time outside may provide a brief and comforting escape from the stresses of cancer for both patients and caregivers.    

Benefits of spending time outside 

In a recent poll, cancer patients were asked about the impact of cancer on self-perception, body image, and mental/emotional health. 70% of respondents said they experienced one or more symptoms of depression during cancer treatment. 

Research has shown that spending time outdoors reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety and helps the mind to rest. One study found that contact with nature decreased mental distress and increased feelings of happiness, positive social interactions, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.   

Adding time outside can also be beneficial in helping patients cope with stress amid a cancer diagnosis and treatment. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, as little as 20 minutes a day outdoors can reduce stress. 

Other notable benefits of spending time outside include: 

  • Better breathing 

  • Improved sleep 

  • Motivation to exercise 

  • Escape from over stimulating technology and sounds 

  • Boosted immunity 

Outdoor activities suitable for cancer patients 

Exercise releases hormones called endorphins which reduce feelings of stress and pain. Easy, low-impact outdoor activities like walking or hiking through one of over 80 state parks across Texas, swimming, riding a bike, or yoga can improve blood circulation, appetite, and muscle strength. It is recommended to consult with a physician before starting an exercise program during or after cancer treatment. 

Gardening is another great activity to enjoy outside as it enables people to commune with nature, work out frustrations, and grow fresh, nourishing food. When people spend time in a garden, anxiety levels can drop and feelings of depression lessen. 

It is important to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, which is the number one cause of skin cancer. Also, many cancer treatments can increase the sensitivity of skin to sunburn. The American Cancer Society suggests the following tips to stay “sun safe”: 

  • Stay in the shade and limit direct exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. 

  • Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat to cover as much skin as possible.  

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, reapplying at least every two hours. 

Being outdoors can make cancer patients and caregivers feel freer, more grounded, and connected to nature. Spending time outside each day helps the body refuel and diminish stress, bringing a sense of calm to a whirlwind of emotions and feelings while navigating cancer.

This article originally appeared in Jewish Outlook.