Everybody knows the feeling. You’ve grown lethargic staying in these temperature-controlled confines. The desire to get outside has transformed from a want to a need. To breathe in that mountain air. To fall asleep under a blanket of stars. To feel the burn of a long hike uphill. Being outside makes your life better.
In this edition of Therm-a-Rest Beta, contributor Patrice La Vigne walks us through the science of how getting outside improves our lives.
Multiple shades of green, brown and blue flash by my passenger side window. I press my forehead up against the glass fixating on the mountaintops shrouded in ghost-grey mist.
We are driving north on Route 191 through the west and less-visited side of Yellowstone National Park, seemingly just the two of us in the wild.
“Can you pull over here?” I ask Justin.
We hop out of the van and breathe in the earthy air. Justin dons his binoculars, scanning the horizon and hillsides. He stops short at the 12 o’clock position, motioning to me. “Bear?” he whispers. We stare intently, then realize it is some deer clattering across the mountainside. I walk a path with my camera to a jewel-blue stream happily hopping over the timeworn rocks. Twigs crunch under my feet as I crouch to get a better look.
Summer is in full swing for America and luckily for us, our epic road trip across the United States has included a plethora of outdoor therapy. As avid outdoor enthusiasts, we typically don’t need extra reasons to escape into the woods and mountains. But if family and work demands overcome the opportunity to get outside, let these 10 scientific reasons win you over.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
The physical benefits of hiking are obvious. But what about the mental benefits?
According to a 2015 study, walking for 90 minutes in a natural environment can put the brakes on negative and obsessive thoughts. Since it can take more than 20 minutes mentally to recover from an e-mail message, getting outside may just be the right mental health prescription.
Similarly, nature therapy could reduce stress.
In a 2011 Japanese study, adults who spent time in nature exhibited lower levels of cortisol, the hormone used as a marker for stress. These same adults also had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates.
In fact, people with major depressive disorder come away in a better mood after taking a 50-minute walk in a natural setting according to 2013 data.
Kick Your Brain Into High Gear
Writer’s block? Stumped on a math equation? Need some inspiration for a new ad campaign?
In a 2012 analysis, researchers studied the before and after creativity levels and problem-solving abilities of participants in Outward Bound. After four days of backpacking and being disconnected from multimedia and technology, there was a 50 percent increase in performance credited to their immersion in nature.
Ever walk into a room and forget what you came in for? Besides cognitive skills, outdoor activity can help prevent memory loss and improve concentration.
A 1991 study showed that a walk in the woods helped folks restore their waning attention better than a walk in the city or just general resting indoors. More recent 2008 University of Michigan findings say walking in nature improves attention.
Nature: The New Prescription For Chronic Diseases
From head to toe, data are revealing a real benefit for chronic diseases.
Justin suffers from inflammation issues, so we were especially elated to hear the results of a 2012 Chinese analysisdemonstrating that those exposed to forest environments versus urban environments yielded lower levels of inflammation.
According to a 2004 study, involving children in outdoor activities after school and on weekends can reduce attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms greatly. Further, findings from a 2013 report demonstrate that outdoor activities result in better eyesight for elementary school children.
As for the C-word, walking in a forest field has proven to increase anti-cancer proteins in blood in a 2007 Japanese study.
John Muir was absolutely right when he said, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” Science has confirmed that nature is awesome.