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Spending Time in the Great Outdoors When You Have Cancer

May 04, 2023

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 also reducing str­­ess and improving mental health.

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

However, spending time outside and feeling the sun on your skin or taking a few deep breaths of fresh air may provide a brief and comforting escape from the daily stresses of cancer for both patients and caregivers.

Benefits of Spending Time Outside

In a recent poll, current and former cancer patients were asked about the impact of cancer on self-perception, body image, and mental and 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.

Feelings of stress are also common among cancer patients. Adding time outside can be beneficial in helping patients cope with a cancer diagnosis or while going through treatment. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, as little as 20 minutes a day spent 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

Adding outdoor time doesn’t require hours of commitment. Activities may vary based on treatments, side effects, and how patients feel on any given day. Sometimes just a few minutes outside each day is all that is needed to improve one’s mood.

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, yoga, or gentle stretching 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. Not only does it add beauty to one’s surroundings, but it enables people to commune with nature, work out frustrations, and grow fresh food to nourish their bodies. Gardening improves mood and increases self-esteem, and when people spend time in a garden, anxiety levels can drop and feelings of depression lessen.

Protecting Your Skin From the Sun

As spring turns to summer and people venture outside more, 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 treatments for cancer 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 your 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. Taking the time to spend just a few moments outside each day with a thoughtful presence helps the body refuel and diminish stress, bringing a sense of calm to a whirlwind of emotions and feelings while navigating cancer.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.