Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Caring for our mind is no easy feat, especially when compared with tending to our physical issues.
Sometimes the simplest things can be the ultimate cure. Camping and/or hiking have so many endless benefits.
With this article, I would like to point out just some of the reasons going out in nature can improve your mental health, and I’ve even referenced some studies for you to check out.
Exercise, such as walking, is unavoidable when hiking or camping and it has many benefits for your mental health. I bet you didn’t know that exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety and stress treatment.
According to a California State University, Long Beach, study walking is linked with our mood and energy. Many would think that walking more reduces our energy, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Aside from giving you energy and boosting your mood, walking can also increase your self-esteem and happiness.
Another study by Australian And Swedish researchers also proves how light exercise makes you feel more energized. Nineteen overweight adults, aged between 45 and 75, would get up and walk every thirty minutes throughout their workday. All of the participants noticed how they felt much less fatigued at the end of the day.
Here’s another study by Harvard Health Publishing that suggests walking can even improve brain function – it can help memory and thinking, reduce inflammation, and improve the growth of new blood vessels in your brain. What’s more, is that exercising improves how well you sleep while also reducing stress and anxiety.
Apparently, those who exercise more have greater volume in the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex – the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory.
Shutting off from social media and taking a break improves your mental health by boosting your creative problem-solving.
There was a study by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer that showed how creative problem solving can be improved by simply reconnecting with nature and disconnecting from technology.
Their study had participants go hiking for around four days and they were not allowed to use any technology. Throughout their hike, they had to perform tasks that required complex problem solving and creativity. Participants who had been hiking had increased performance on problem-solving tasks by 50%.
The constant noise from urban areas and technology demand our attention and cause us to be able to focus less.
It’s even more important for children to have the opportunity to ‘detox’ from technology by going camping often.
Camping, in particular, is an opportunity to spend some quality time with your loved ones, be it family or friends, and this boosts your mental health.
Nowadays we focus most of our energy on things like work and technology, and we don’t really take some time to pay attention to our mental health.
Spending that quality time with people you care about can reset your mind and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. It can even boost your self-esteem and possibly increase your lifespan.
Our bodies have an internal clock, known as circadian rhythms which are 24-hour cycles. It runs in the background so that our bodies are able to carry out essential functions and processes.
The most important circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle, which we attune depending on our personal routines – work and school usually rule our schedules.
When camping, you’re able to fall asleep whenever feels right, and then wake up by natural light. This is extremely healthy for our mental health and peace of mind.
A study was conducted by Kenneth Write, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, to understand how internal clocks work and recalibrate.
Write sent a number of participants on a week-long summer camping trip back in 2013 and they weren’t allowed to use electronics.
Before, and after, the trip he measured the participant’s levels of hormone melatonin, which alerts the body when it’s time to sleep. He discovered that their internal clocks were delayed by two hours, which causes negative effects on our mental health.
After just one week in nature, their internal clocks were able to recalibrate. Good as new.
Write has since conducted a newer study, this time in winter in order to better understand how long recalibration takes.
Firstly, he had his five participants equipped with a wearable device that took note of and measured when they woke up, when they slept, and how much natural light they were exposed to. Write had also measured their melatonin levels.
Once again, his participant’s internal clocks were delayed – this time by over two hours.
Write’s study had two parts to it. Aside from having participants going camping for a week in winter, he also compared what happened to those who went camping just for a weekend with others who stayed home.
The participants who remained home stayed up late and slept in, pushing their internal clocks back even further. Those who went on the two-day trip had their internal clocks shifted earlier.
Making sure that you get enough natural light and cutting off from technology is quite clearly a necessity for our mental health.
In conclusion you can easily see that camping has a host of benefits that perhaps you didn’t even consider beforehand. Of course you would have likely known the physical exercise benefits but as you can see there are more benefits than that alone. Things like the natural light cycle and simply being away from social media and technology can be a really beneficial experience for your own mental health.
So next time you go camping/hiking and are returning home after and you are feeling great now you know in a little more detail why your whole body and mentality are flowing with positivity!