Black and white photo of trail in a forest. Foliage surrounding image and trail.

Reasons to Re-think Encouraging “Going Outside & Getting Fresh Air”

We used to always tell ourselves & our kids that “getting fresh air” and spending time outside was healthy and good for us. Given recent events & changes, this belief may not be encouraged as much or even coming to an end. Air quality, pandemics, overpopulation, crime, and expenses are all reasons why we may want to rethink the encouragement of people and kids to spend more time outdoors.

Air Quality

Many of us have either experienced, know someone who has, or read about major changes and often worsening changes in the quality of air. Air pollution comes from natural (but unfortunate causes) such as the increase in wildfires, volcano eruptions, and even dust/pollen. Unnatural causes of air pollution are fuel emissions, burning coal/oil/wood, manufacturing, and chemicals like paints or cleaning solutions. “Almost all of the global population (99%) are exposed to air pollution levels that put them at increased risk for diseases including heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, and pneumonia.” says the World Health Organization (WHO). Having clean air is detrimental to the health of not only us but other animals and the planet in general.

As someone who has experienced pollen allergies since a young age. I (along with many others) have noticed an increase in the severity of these allergies over the years. I have never experienced them as badly as I did this year (2023). The major reason for this is of course climate change. Dr. Kristine Vanijcharoenkarn (an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine who specializes in allergies and immunology) states: “While pollen counts vary from year to year, recent trends suggest allergy seasons are, in general, getting longer and worse” in this Time article.

We can and are making changes to help try to reduce air pollution and climate change but many can easily argue that it is not enough. Some things I used to help me get through some difficult times due to the air quality are wearing a mask, using an inhaler, taking antihistamines, and purchasing an air purifier (which is great for indoors). Even with all these things, I was still unable to do my normal routine of biking to work and had to limit my time spent outdoors.

It is also important to remind ourselves, that the quality of our air is linked to the quality of water through evaporation and transpiration. Water has its own causes of pollution which can also be shared between the two or directly to us through swimming, ingesting food sources from this water, and consumer water contaminations. Like air, we should also keep in mind that this not only affects us but also wildlife and the planet as a whole.

Pandemics

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were instructed to follow rules such as staying home and only going out if it was essential. When going out for essentials such as food or emergencies, it was encouraged to only have one person per household appointed to do this when possible. Other rules we had were social distancing, wearing masks, limited or forbidden social gatherings, more sanitation practices etc. Although things have calmed down now since vaccinations, this was a huge risk for certain vulnerable people which resulted in death for many. Many of us are still on high alert and are not comfortable with taking this risk when going out. This is especially true in busy cities or places where germs are easily spread. CBC reports: The Research for Institute for Cooking and Kitchen Intelligence surveyed 1,000 homeowners and found that 64% have a “greater desire” to stay home now than before the pandemic.

Overpopulation

The world’s population is increasing every year, and with that comes an increase in a variety of risks such as the rapid spread of diseases, competition for resources, and an increase in crime. We have the option of an increase in assurance of physical safety by simply staying home and taking advantage of technologies with stay-at-home entertainment or the luxury of requesting someone else to go outside and deliver your groceries etc. through apps such as Uber Eats or DoorDash. Overpopulation also causes difficulties & risks for those who suffer from mental health-related issues such as social anxiety. When you have a mental health problem and are exposed to a high-density population, there are likely some in that population who will not understand or respect some people who display their disorder in what may seem unusual or even rude to unknowing people.

An increase in taking away natural resources such as forests to house, feed, and manage an increasing population also can decrease motivation to go outside. Natural resources may even be destroyed through natural causes from climate change or accidents. When there are very few natural places to explore and get “fresh air” there is easily a loss of motivation to spend time outside. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing problem we face due to our current circumstances.

Increase in Crime

When there are many people, there becomes a competitiveness for resources such as money and food. There is also an increase in the amount of targets for criminals. Removing yourself from a potential criminal’s radar may be encouraged by reducing time spent in public places. However, the same could be said for online social media spaces which are public. When online, you have the option to protect yourself and your identity more if you wish by not revealing your appearance, name, age, or by using a VPN. When online, you can leave whenever you want much easier than if you are physically trapped by someone/something in an unsafe situation in public (ie. hostage or physical violence). Our population, in many areas, has increased so much that resources are not available or achievable for all and can easily result in poverty which is linked to a higher crime rate such as burglary.

Expensive

Living costs have gone up in many areas, such as my own, which resulted in me not being able to afford to go out as much. Of course, there are options to do things for free such as going for a walk or going to the beach/park etc. Somehow, even when I try to do free things, I will likely end up spending money especially if I am far from home. I may need to use the restroom, but maybe the only one is for customers only. I may also get hungry but didn’t bring any/or enough food with me. If you live somewhere that is not close to places you like to visit when outside you will have to spend money to get there such as driving or taking public transit. Online options to do your shopping, see your friends virtually, and even work from home have all become increasingly popular for good reasons such as saving money, time, and ensuring your safety.

Although going outside may be safer and healthier in some areas, I do believe that encouraging people & kids to go outside more will continue to reduce. This is due to the many adaptations & preferences that work better for many of us for a variety of reasons, which all result in more time being spent indoors.

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