Why eating outdoors wards off disease and illness

Dr Paul Innerd

Published on 21 July 2016

Sunderland Clinical Exercise Physiologist Dr Paul Innerd says that eating alfresco could help to boost our immunity and wellbeing.

Dr Innerd explained: "The research that I carry out is in a clinical environment with NHS patients – so I hear a lot about their lifestyles and diet.

"Of all outdoor activities, eating outdoors is an activity that many of my patients report to be most relaxing.

"In the UK we don't always have the weather to pack a picnic and eat outside. It is really important to exploit any lovely days but bear in mind, it doesn't necessarily need to be a sunny day to benefit."

He explained that physiologically, eating outside – especially with family or friends – instantly impacts on our cortisol levels, a hormone which is higher in stressful situations. Too much of it puts us at risk of illness.

High levels of inflammation – which can heighten the risk of cancer and other chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type II diabetes – could also decrease if alfresco dining is also done on a regular basis. General immunity could also increase.

Dr Innerd said: "When you get an email, for example, cortisol spikes.

"But going outdoors, enjoying food and having conversation reduces your cortisol level quite dramatically.

"And if you make it a regular lifestyle choice this will reduce inflammation and increase your immunity."

Children also stand to benefit massively from regular alfresco dining, said Dr Innerd.

He added: "But the benefits for children of eating outdoors are really more important and more significant.

"In a busy world, parents sometimes don't spend enough time with their kids and this can mean that when they grow up, they might develop problems forming relationships and coping with the normal stresses of daily life.

"That family picnic could be an ideal opportunity to spend some family bonding time and make a huge difference to the child's development.

"There is no television and people can appreciate their surroundings which promotes a feeling of wellbeing."

We are also more likely to make healthier choices at a picnic due to a phenomenon called social desirability bias, says Dr Innerd.

This is where people like to be seen to be doing the 'right' thing by their peers, influencing their food choices.

He said: "Few people realise that when we are being watched by other people, we tend to make healthier choices anyway."

Find out more about our University experts at http://experts.sunderland.ac.uk/experts