By Lisa Dempsey

Did you know that going outside for as little as five minutes a day can boost your immune system’s health?  I am sure this is one of the reasons Girl Campers, well into their 70s and beyond, are still hitching up their campers and hiking along the trails with us.  In my experience, we tend to hear more about how being outside positively impacts our mental health.  In this article, I’ll share five incredible ways the great outdoors boosts a woman’s immune system. 

1. Sunshine and Vitamin D

One of the most direct benefits of being outdoors is exposure to sunlight, which is vital for producing Vitamin D. This nutrient is essential for a robust immune system. In the United States, we are facing an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.  According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Vitamin D enhances the pathogen-fighting effects of white blood cells, which are critical parts of your immune defense.  Vitamin D helps to decrease inflammation generated by white blood cells when they are working to fight infections. Inadequate Vitamin D levels can increase the risk of infections and autoimmune diseases.  Baylor College of Medicine recommends ten to thirty minutes of sun exposure daily. 

PRO TIP: Take a short walk, do some gardening, or find a place on your patio to read daily to soak in that sun!

three women read books while lying on a blanket outside in the sunshine

2. Fresh Air and Better Respiratory Health

Breathing in fresh outdoor air can do wonders for your respiratory system, but did you know it can also positively impact your immune system? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. The American Lung Association put out a great short informational video about indoor air pollutants that you can watch by clicking here

Conversely, many plants put substances, including organic compounds called phytoncides, into the air that seem to boost immune function.  Spending time outside gives your lungs a chance to detoxify, reducing your susceptibility to respiratory infections and supporting your body’s immune functions.  A bonus finding by a Stanford University Study also showed how fresh air improves our brain function, memory, and creativity. 

PRO TIP: Take your Yoga practice outside and enhance your breathing with fresh air. If you have limited mobility or are new to the benefits of yoga, try a short chair Yoga routine by clicking here for a free Chair Yoga video routine.

A women sits cross legged in a yoga pose outdoors

3. Physical Activity and Immune Function

When we are outdoors, we tend to be more active.  I think that is because there are fewer couches and televisions outside!  Engaging in physical activities boosts your immune system. Exercise promotes good circulation, which allows cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular moderate exercise can reduce inflammation and stimulate the immune system by promoting the positive circulation of immune cells.  Physical activity may also help to “flush out” bacteria from your lungs and airways to reduce your chances of getting a cold.

PRO TIP: Sitting around the campsite or lounging by a pool is fun and may be good for soaking in some sunshine and breathing in fresh air, but remember to move. Go on a scavenger hunt, explore a new environment or trail, walk the dog, or ride your bike.

a women with long curly hair is smiling while riding a bike in the desert

4. Stress Reduction and Mental Health Benefits

Chronic stress can suppress the immune system, making you more vulnerable to illnesses. Spending time in nature is a natural stress reliever. The soothing effects of nature can lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone), thereby boosting immune function.

Research from the University of Minnesota indicates that spending time in nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Reduced stress levels help maintain a healthy immune system, as the body is not constantly in a state of fight-or-flight, which can wear down immune defenses over time.

PRO TIP:  Try a mindfulness walk.  You can do this in a local park, on a nature trail, or even in your backyard.  In Texas, some of our State Parks have incorporated mindfulness elements into nature and hiking trails.  Click here for more about mindfulness walks.

Two women are walking with two large white dogs in the woods

5. Microbial Diversity and Immune Training

When I’m outdoors with my granddaughters, I often say we are in the midst of immunity opportunities! Believe it or not, getting a bit dirty outdoors can be beneficial. Our immune system thrives on diversity, and exposure to a variety of microbes found in natural environments can train it to respond more effectively.

A study by the University of Colorado Boulder highlights that regular interaction with nature can enrich our microbiome, the community of microorganisms living in and on our bodies, strengthening our immune response.

PRO TIP:  Give Plogging a try find out more by clicking here!  You still want to stay safe from harmful bacteria when you are camping.  Have a Life Straw in your gear to ensure clean water in the backcountry.  Use compostable antibacterial wipes when camping, but remember to leave no trace.  Take them home to compost.

Embrace the Outdoors

Incorporating more outdoor time into your routine is a simple and enjoyable way to enhance your immune health. Whether it’s a brisk morning walk, a weekend hike, or just lounging in your backyard, the benefits of nature are profound and far-reaching.  Feel free to adjust your outdoor activities to suit your interests and lifestyle, but remember, every moment spent in nature is a step towards better health. Enjoy the sunshine, breathe deeply, and let your immune system thrive! 

Note: Always consult with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your lifestyle, especially if you have underlying health conditions.

So, Girl Campers, let’s head outside and let nature work its magic on our immune systems.  Be sure to check out all of the latest events that a local Girl Camper Chapter is hosting near you. Follow Girl Camper on Facebook, listen to our Girl Camper Podcast on your favorite platform, or watch it on YouTube here!

About the Author

Lisa Dempsey is the Southeast Texas Chapter Guide for Girl Camper. She lives in Kingwood, Texas, with her husband Robert, two fluffy Cardigan Welsh Corgis, and her children.  In addition to being a guide, Lisa is the CEO and Founder of the Forgotten Wishes Foundation, whose mission is to help people with disabilities combat feelings of loneliness and isolation and create a society of belonging.

Girl Camper is a women’s lifestyle brand focusing on camping, outdoor activities, camaraderie, and travel. Our national company produces the award-winning Girl Camper Magazine, has a website with informative and fun blog posts, hosts events and excursions, and maintains national and local social network communities on Facebook. Search for Girl Camper on Facebook and find your local chapter.

Lisa Dempsey Guide Information and contact notes

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