For so long, outdoor activity like hiking, camping and brisk strolls through parks were taken as the natural preserve of nature freaks. But who knew they’d become a medical prescription someday? Who knew someday your doctor would look you in the eyes and say “take a hike”?
Yes, that day is fast bearing down on us too. In a 2016 White House Roundtable on “Health Benefits of Time Outdoors”, Michael Suk, the chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Geisinger Health System actually mentioned the possibility of doctors writing prescriptions for outdoor activity. Yep. Basically, “Go camping once a week, then see me in 6 months”.
It isn’t half as ridiculous as it sounds either. There’s a mounting volume of studies that empirical relationships between quality life, mental health and being outdoors. And it has the propensity to be a timely shot in the arm for an American population that has too much spud in it and too little.
According to available data, the average American spends 90% of their life indoors, that gives a whole new meaning to the term “couch potato”. With the amount of indoor time logged across the country, it’s no wonder that obesity and mental health issues are rapidly attaining the rate of epidemics.
Granted, with the way work and industry have developed, you can’t really avoid being indoors and staring at one screen or the other for long periods. But science is now telling us it’s time to get back outside. Just like modern fashion trends, we’re being drawn inexorably back where we began: out in the fields.
Even better, just the right amount of outdoor activity can help you perform better on the job, feel better about yourself and live healthier overall. Here’s 11 reasons why you should start planning your next hike.
(Graphics Pedia, 2018)
#1: Tackle obesity and related problems
Obesity is now one of the leading causes of death in the world and it’s apparently catching. According to the Center for Disease Control (2019), fully 1 in 4 Americans are obese and those numbers have been creeping up steadily.
But last we checked, obesity is not fatal. It is fully reversible and as studies show, being outdoors can greatly increase physical activity, allowing you to work muscles that are rarely used and can even affect what you eat. That’s of course assuming you don’t go camping with a mobile KFC or McDonald's.
#2: Improve your memory
Why do you think you sometimes forget what you wanted from the fridge right when you get to the door? Here’s a hint: It’s all those chlorofluorocarbons. Okay, maybe not.
But what is certain is that nature walks can positively affect your short term memory and help you remember better. In a study conducted at the University of Michigan, it was discovered that those who took a test after a walk in natural surroundings did better than another group that walked down a city street.
#3: Reduce stress
Being outdoors has also been identified to greatly reduce the physical expression of stress in the body. This study found that students sent into the forest for two nights had lower levels of cortisone, a stress hormone, than those who spent the same time in the city.
Even at work, just having a view of nature right out your window has been associated with lower stress levels and higher job satisfaction.
#4: Eliminate fatigue
And when you feel like your brain has been carted away and replaced with a ball of yarn soaked in ice water and left at the North Pole, the great outdoors can be just what the doctor ordered.
That state is what is called “mental fatigue” and a great way to deal with it is by exposing your mind and body to natural environments. In fact, just looking at pictures of nature can have the effect of helping your mental energy bounce back fast.
#5: Protect your vision
There’s plenty research that activity can have a protective effect on the eyes and help reduce the risk of developing myopia – nearsightedness, especially in kids. This is a general by-product of getting people to drop their retina-blinding phones and laptops for a few hours of outdoor traipsing.
In this Taiwan study of two schools that had equally common cases of myopia, the researchers asked one school to encourage outdoor activity during recess. After one, the myopia rate that school just 8.41% as against 17.56% in the other school.
#6: Lower your blood pressure
Life is generally fast paced these days. We’re all doing several kilometers in our heads trying to catch up to something or thinking about catching up to something. Time spent outdoors will make you slow down and get a handle on yourself.
This Japanese study of 280 participants found that a walk in the forest reduced stress levels by more than 15%, average pulse by almost 4% and blood pressure by over 2%.
#7: Focus better and get more creative
Being outdoors is so relaxing and restorative that it can help you clear your mind of the unimportant stuff so you can focus properly. The effect is so strong that it even works for kids and young adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), helping them focus better after just 20 minutes outdoors.
Additionally, by allowing you to clear your mind, it opens the door for you to perform better on creative tasks. Thus, lending scientific proof to the proposition that all great ideas are born outdoors.
#8: Take A Walk, Not A Pill
Anxiety and depression are the of the array of mental health issues that currently bedevil a large tract of Americans; but studies have shown that spending some time in nature, especially combined with exercise, can help relieve these issues.
One study found that walks in the forest contributed to relieving bad moods and another found that outdoor walks can be useful as a clinical supplement to treatments for major depressive disorders.
#9: Boost your immune system
A review of research on the immune system-boosting effects of being outdoors concluded that “all of these findings strongly suggest that forest environments have beneficial effects on human immune function.”
While nothing is as yet concluded on all the research, it does show that the increased physical effect of being outdoors can help boost your immune system.
#10: Sleep better
While you may be wondering how it would be possible to sleep outdoors with Bigfoot and many animals on the loose, there’s plenty science behind the fact that being outdoors can help you sleep better.
As the National Wildlife Foundation explains, being exposed to natural light, nature and exercise can help you sleep better at night. Plus, it resets your circadian rhythm (your natural sleep clock) so you can quit being an unintentional night owl.
#11: Live longer and healthier
With all the benefits listed above, it’s only natural that being outdoors is associated with longer and better quality life. This 2016 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that greater exposure to nature was associated with a 12% lower mortality rate.
Another study of over 250,000 people found that a wide variety of diseases were less prevalent among people that lives close to green spaces.
So, it’s time to get outdoors!
Of course, all the above doesn’t mean you should go become a contestant on “Survivor” or join Bear Grylls when next he has a taste for raw scorpion. You can start by spending some time at a park close to you.
If you’re wondering where to go for some great hiking, camping or just great views of nature, this list from can get you started just right.
And if you already have a choice and are wondering what to pack, we’ve got you. Scoot on over to our website to see everything you need to make it one hell of a trip (metaphorically of course).
Cheers and see you outdoors!
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