The Benefits of Time Spent Outdoors
camping health hiking mental health nature outdoors parks psychology spiritual health well-being wilderness
The Psychological Effects of the Outdoors
Research in psychology has shown that exposure to the outdoors makes people feel more energetic and alive. It seems that nature revitalizes people. It is also known to instill a sense of well-being, helping reduce stress and all the stress-related disorders that are so common in modern life. According to Psychology Today and this study, exercise outdoors is more beneficial to exercise indoors, and also promotes greater presence of mind. Being in nature helps us be more present, more in touch with ourselves, our bodies, and other people, promoting a sense of connection.
There are a lot of reasons for why this might be. Some of the more popular ones:
- Noises in nature are more subtle and complex, promoting relaxation rather than calling attention to themselves
- Our senses evolved to perceive and operate in a natural environment. By returning to it, we let our senses function according to their best pathways.
- There is a sense of balance and harmony in the natural world that is absent for the man-made world, which must constantly be recalibrated. Nature takes care of itself. This harmony rubs off on us.
- There is much more going on in natural settings than in the average human habitation (thousands of organisms within a few square yards, multiple levels of environmental niches, etc.). This provides more stimulation to our senses without being overwhelming.
- There have been studies showing that exposure to green specifically promotes positive responses.
- Increased exposure to sunlight and highly oxygenated air.
Escaping the Everyday to Focus on What's Important
Of course, not everyone enjoys being in nature. Some people get annoyed by bugs, or the heat, or the lack of comfortable seats. I generally make a point of avoiding people that can't even enjoy a short hike, because spending time in the outdoors is such an integral part of my existence and my concept of self. Camping, hiking, and time spent outdoors has provided me with much needed solace throughout my life. My dad always used to love the simplicity of life in the woods. When you're out camping, there is nothing to worry about except getting to your campsite, cooking your food, and taking care of basic life necessities. There is no point in worrying about things to do for work, since you cannot take care of them. He used to get into the woods specifically to isolate himself from the civilized world of everyday concerns.
Oddly though, I think the concerns you focus on in the woods are the true 'everyday' concerns of life. Eat, sleep, move, get shelter, stay warm. These are things we take for granted in our modern lives, with the ironic result that we often forget to pay any attention to them at all. In college, many of my peers often skipped breakfast and I still don't get enough sleep. The result is a sense of underlying stress that seems to permeate everything else we do during the day.
Nature reminds us that the most important things in life are the things that allow life. Eat, sleep, move. That's really all you need to be happy, and in the outdoors, that's really all you have time for.
I'd love to hear how the wilderness has contributed to your life and well-being, or why you hate the outdoors if that's your thing. Post to comments.