With summer here, it's time to leave the gym behind (for a little while) and get outside. With warm weather you can find alternatives to the dark gym and get a full body workout while having a little fun by venturing into the great outdoors. That's why this week I am going to talk about the health benefits of camping.
Going off grid on a camping trip means you get to leave the processed foods and fast food restaurants behind. There's none of that in the woods which means you will need to plan ahead and bring nutritious snacks like trail mix for the trip. A good piece of meat cooked over the grill tastes better than anything you can buy on the go, and you can focus on eating real food that nourishes your body for the physical exercise ahead.
The most obvious health benefit of camping is the physical exertion of climbing those off road trails. Hiking can burn up to 300 calories per hour. And if you take "roughing it" seriously, things like chopping firewood burns even more calories and works plenty of muscles. Getting the tent up, pounding in the tent stakes, unloading the car and unpacking gear are sneaky good ways to get additional calories burned without even thinking about it. Camping and hiking is a full body exercise that teaches your body to work harmoniously - rather than spending a day working on bigger arms, you are building a physique that is truly strong at the core and capable of facing day to day challenges once you get back home.
Some of us chose to camp alone, but if you do camp with friends or family it's a great way to get valuable socialization time and talk about things that are important. Most of us get our news from a social media stream that has little context or meaning. By sitting with someone around a campfire, you get to know them at a more personal level. This time together is important because you are not being distracted by the meaningless messages and marketing that have become a part of our modern world. Time with loved ones and good conversation is a key component of longevity and overall happiness.
Increased Vitamin D
Being outdoors means sun exposure, so be sure to wear a good sunscreen and sunglasses, but sun means your body gets a healthy dose of vitamin D which is critical in our biological processes. Some studies have even shown that lack of vitamin D is strongly linked with depression, so a little time outside may be just what you need to feel good.
Camping presents your brain with challenges that keep the mind sharp by presenting you with new problem solving situations. Navigation with a map and compass, directing a canoe down the river, starting a fire, and setting up the tent challenge your mind in new ways and help bring a unique problem solving perspective to your home life and the office. These unexpected situations keep you on your toes and utilize both hemispheres of your brain, helping to keep your mind sharp. These types of challenges are also shown in studies to delay memory loss and prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.
Camping is a great way to minimize stress: leaving the emails, work, cell phones and television behind can help you put your body at ease and lower blood pressure. Escaping the day to day responsibilities of life creates a peace of mind that is akin to meditation. Clearing your mind of tasks helps you to focus on the here and now, what is important this very moment. By prioritizing activities, you can be more productive over the long term. This means a better mood, better sleep, and a calmness that carries through into more stressful life situations. Activities like camping and hiking have also been shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety: according to some researchers, being in a “green space” can decrease these symptoms of depression by up to 71%. Not to mention all that fresh air awakens your body!
Resetting Your Body Clock
Studies have shown that sleeping outdoors can reset your biological clock because your body becomes in tune with naturally occurring light-dark patterns. Biologically, we are programmed to wake up when the sun rises, and get sleepy when the sun goes down. Modern lifestyles and indoor lighting can alter your natural circadian clock. Exposure to natural light cycles allows your body to synchronizes to the sunrise and sunset. This helps you to get back to a healthy pattern of going to sleep and waking up at decent times - allowing you to get the most out of our day and be more productive. Sure there are natural ways to improve your sleep, but nothing beats time outdoors.
With so many health benefits to camping, it's time for you to set a date for a trip outdoors. I just gave you all the excuses you need to take some time off work and take a little vacation. It doesn't matter if you are a newbie traveling in an RV or a pop-up trailer, or more experienced with the outdoors and feel comfortable pitching a tent for a few days, nature is often a better healer than anything you’d find on the pharmacy shelves. Fresh air, sun, trees, and the sound of nature is the perfect escape from the loud city noises and stress.
Brooke Bailey is a personal trainer, masseuse, and student in health and wellness.
She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Follow her on Facebook