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The Benefits of Outdoor Recreation Physical, Emotional, and Social

You don't have to be an expert in the outdoors to enjoy the outdoors. You don't have to be well-versed in native plant biology and the complexities of riparian shrubland in order to appreciate a good sunset. You don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on the latest gear to have a good time on the trails. You don't have to have four-wheel drive and a thousand dollar kayak to make the most out of your summer. And you don't always have to travel far in order to find adventure...

...but sometimes you feel like it.

Living in the digital age, where everyone constantly shares their adventures with the world, it may seem like you have to plan elaborate destination vacations in order to keep up appearances. But the truth of the matter is that outdoor recreation is about spending time in nature--whether it's your backyard, the local park, or a tropical island on the other side of the world. The point is to get out and enjoy the world and its beauty.

And with more and more research coming out every year, it's becoming pretty clear that it's not just about admiring Mother Earth's beauty anymore. It's actually becoming more essential to a happy, healthy, and productive life.

Physical

This seems like a pretty obvious one: it's good to exercise. But it is starting to seem that many of us can exercise longer outdoors than they would inside. Obviously this isn't true for everyone, but nature and fresh air have their positive effects on stamina and longevity. A further run. A longer yoga-session. Adding more steps to your evening walk.

But on the other hand, the terrain can also be more physically challenging, meaning the body has to work harder to keep up with the demanding variations of the natural landscape. And while it can prove difficult to run across a rocky plane, the constant adaptive movements that your body makes can help avoid a potential injury due to repetition or overworking one particular muscle. Conversely, the terrain can also prove problematic, so always use your best judgement.

In a 2011 study done by the American Chemical Society on exercising outdoors, they found a significant correlation between physical activity outdoors vs. physical activity indoors. Why? The findings suggest a greater sense of both calm and awareness after exercising outdoors, meaning that physically, it may have the most beneficial effect on...

...your mental wellbeing.

Emotional

When we talk about emotional health, it's pretty easy to tie this section into both physical and social, but due to the largely shared belief that nature is good for the mind, it deserves its own section.

Nature is good for brain functioning. And that's vital, because when the brain isn't functioning properly, we suffer. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, stress... We've all been there: stuck inside, feeling trapped but also feeling incredibly, incredibly lazy. In the world of binge-watching television, it's easy to find an excuse to forego tending our mental health in the name of Season 3 of Stranger Things.

While it was a great season and well-worth the binge, it's imperative that we understand, even slightly, how beneficial outdoor recreation is on our mental and emotional health. As scientists learn more about the positive effects of nature on our health, it seems pretty clear:

  • It reduces stress
  • Increases feelings of self-confidence and self-reliance
  • Can attribute to more creative thought-processes
  • May be therapeutic for those suffering from PTSD, OCD, depression, and other traumas

Plus, don't you feel even a little bit happier after watching the sunrise? Or taking a jog around the block? Or a weekend in the woods? Or a day on the river?

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts." - Rachel Carson

Social

People like being outside. Most people. And for those that do, there is almost nothing better than watching the sun set from behind the massive mountain that you just spent an entire day tackling. The satisfaction, the glory, the accomplishment.

But how cool is it to have a friend right beside you, gazing in awe at the same incredible view, feeling the same surge of power and energy and achievement that you do. To be able to go back to that moment, together, any time you want. Reveling in that feeling, that energy.

It's good to create memories. It's human to share them--in books, in conversation, in the ever-prevalent social media feeds. We live to create that social bond where we can relate to one another through shared experiences and combined passions. Nature is one of the best vessels through which we can foster those connections.

And it doesn't have to be a high-altitude, 8,000 foot climb into the sky. Nor does it have to be the careful maneuvering of class 5 rapids or mountain biking a steep cliffside. It doesn't have to be tackling tsunami-sized waves off the coast of Mexico or soaring 3 miles from a plane strapped to an overly-energetic diving instructor.

But it can be.

Or it can be a gentle stroll through a park. Relaxing on a patio, listening to the rain dance on the rooftops. Cherry-picking on a summer day. Fishing the neighborhood pond. Playing hopscotch with your children. Chatting poolside with your friends at the water park. Searching for rainbows after a storm.

Sometimes the best views are the ones from your own backyard and sometimes the most memorable experiences are the spontaneous and unpredictable.

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Credits:

Created with images by photo-nic.co.uk nic - "untitled image" • Lucas Clara - "untitled image" • 947051 - "winter woman girl" • MI PHAM - "untitled image" • alinemais - "children girl cute"

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