We Need To Get Out More

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Feeling sleepy, tired, irritable, unfocused, sick, weary, moody or out of sorts? If you’re one of those things – or several of them combined – chances are you’re not getting out enough. All of these sensations, such as headaches, sleepiness, and limited attention spans, are well known as side effects of spending too long indoors and not getting enough exposure to fresh air.

Scientific research has gone one step further by stating that not all fresh air is equal. It all comes down to negative ions versus positive ions. As funny as it might sound, it is negative ions that will have the most positive effect in changing the way you feel.

Ions are charged particles in the air, with some charged negatively, and others charged positively. In non-scientific language, negative ions can be considered to be oxygen ions with an extra electron attached, which are produced through water molecules. This explains why negative ions are abundant in the air supply near fresh, flowing water supplies such as rivers, streams, seas and waterfalls. This water-based wealth of negative ions might also explain why you feel less fatigued after a shower. Just plain old fresh air has enough negatively charged ions to have a decent effect, but that is multiplied when you add water.

While negative ions are in plentiful supply in natural settings, they’re dangerously low in interior spaces including air-conditioned offices, a warm and stuffy car, and in an over-heated home. As an example, the air around waterfalls can contain up to 100,000 negative ions per cubic centimetre. In comparison, a home’s interior might contain anywhere from zero to just a  few hundred per cubic centimetre.

Negative ions have been described as “nature’s anti-depressants” with research saying exercise in the fresh air has a more pronounced anti-depressant effect than a workout in an air-conditioned gym – although that gym session will always be better than doing nothing at all. This research goes as far back as the 1930s, when an  American research engineer, Dr Clarence Hansell, started investigating the biological effects of ionised air after he noticed the mood in a colleague changed in response to the ions being generated by their equipment. When the machine produced negative ions, his colleague was upbeat. When the machine produced positive ions, the mood became decidedly downbeat.

For the sake of our mental health, we really need to get out more. And, for maximum benefit, we need to stay out. This Australian company states that clients who invest in a retractable roof for a pergola report a noticeable lift in their mood. This might be associated with the fact they’re enjoying the good life in their outdoor living space – or it could be they’re spending more time immersed in negative ions. Sitting outside in your own backyard sounds like perfect therapy – and probably even more effective when there’s a water feature nearby.