There are endless reasons why people choose to spend their weekends sleeping on the cold hard floor of the forest. Mostly it’s for the love of adventure and to be connected with the beauty of nature, but it’s often an escape from the business and stress of city living. Our prehistoric ancestors lived as nomadic campers and so we are hardwired to drift back to our innate habits – it’s not surprising that we crave time in the fresh air away from it all. Additionally, there are a multitude of health benefits of camping and spending time in the outdoors, so next time you are planning a restorative getaway, don’t discount camping for being too tiring or too much effort.
6 health benefits of camping
You’ll be surprised at the number of physical and mental health benefits that you will gain from a weekend in the wild. And most of them you won’t even be aware of. So get out there and enjoy these wonderful health benefits of camping.
Let the sunshine in
Exposing your skin to the first rays of the spring sun feels instantly rejuvenating. And it’s no coincidence that it makes you feel so good; research shows that exposure to sunlight increases the release of serotonin levels (also known as the happy hormone), by the brain. These increased levels have mood boosting and calming effects on the body, making us feel just lovely! The body also absorbs vitamin D from sunlight, which has endless benefits to our health, including improved bone health, cancer prevention properties, improved immune system and the support of lung and cardiovascular health, to mention but a few. So if you’re in need of a bit of a mood and health boost after the long dark days of winter, then snatch some time in the sunlight whenever you can.
Tip: The use of sunscreen is essential when camping, however it also greatly limits your ability to absorb vitamin D. 10-15 minutes of daily exposure to the sun provides adequate vitamin D levels, so if you plan to top up your levels before you apply sunscreen, then be very careful not to do it in the midday sun and limit your time depending on your skin colour and type.
Some may enjoy the solitude and meditation of camping solo, but for those more inclined to make a social event of it, you are potentially extending your lifespan, without even knowing it! Supporting research also suggests that hanging out with your pals has positive effects on memory problems. Camping is such a fun environment to be spending time with friends and family, and nurturing relationships, new or old, only warms the heart further. Happiness all round!
Tip: To really bring your group together, organise a game of softball or soccer. The team spirit and competition of camping games are guaranteed to get even the most reserved of your friends in the mood to join in the banter.
Tucked up by 10pm and waking up naturally, just as life should be! But when does that ever happen in everyday life? A campfire before bed is the perfect way to wind down and switch off the brain, making an early bedtime no problem at camp. It’s likely that you’ll be physically exhausted too, and as long as you’ve got a good sleeping pad and cosy sleeping bag, you’re set for a top night of snoozing under the stars. To make matters even more dreamlike, there is evidence that suggests sleeping away from artificial light helps us to reset our circadian rhythms, leaving us feeling less groggy in the mornings.
Tip: Choose a camping spot that is away from large groups or families with children, who will definitely be up in the morning before your ‘natural’ wake up time! Bring ear plugs too, just in case.
The effects of time in the great outdoors is so significant on stress levels, that there are now companies offering wilderness therapy programmes to help ease the symptoms of stress and other mental problems. A lifetime of wilderness exploration gave the great John Muir a deep understanding of the impact that time in nature has on our mental health:
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
Tip:If you can’t get out camping regularly, then gain some headspace by getting to a local park during your lunch break for a quick 10 minutes in nature.
Unplug and disconnect
The explosion of mobile technology has sparked increased interest and research into the potential negative effects it has on our health. Studies have founds that anxiety and poor sleep can be connected with the overuse of phones and computers, so a weekend without them will do you more good than you might realise. Time away from your phone also allows you to connect with nature and your natural surroundings instead. So ditch the screen and enjoy the moment with those you are with.
Tip: If totally abandoning your phone is out of the question, then turn it onto silent and put it at the bottom of your bag. Then give yourself 15 minutes near the end of the day to ‘catch up’ on anything you may have missed, before turning it off until the same time the next day.
Ever wondered why we take a deep breath when we step into the fresh air? Well, aside from the lack of pollution entering our system, the air in areas of high tree density has higher levels of oxygen in it, and a big deep breath of it sends extra oxygen to the brain. This in turn releases more of the good stuff (serotonin), which once again, elevates the mood. Ah, feeling good just thinking about it! A weekend in pollution free air will also help to detoxify the body giving your immune system an extra boost for all round good health.
Tip: Start each day at camp with a moment for some deep breathing. It will get you feeling great instantly and will also be a good reminder to turn the pace of life down a notch.
With all that serotonin buzzing around making happy campers out of even the most reluctant partakers, getting motivated for physical activity is a breeze. We all know how great being active is for our health and if you’re unsure of just how great, then take a read of this article. And it’s good news for the fitness conscious too: more calories are burned (over 500k/cal per hour for a good paced hike), muscles are strengthened, joints are stabilised and general fitness is improved. And of course, yet more serotonin is released! So it really is no wonder that lovers of camping place such importance on their precious weekends in the wilderness.
Tip: Camping is a great opportunity for a spot of outdoor yoga. So get your sleeping mat out and salute the sun. The perfect way to prepare your body for a day of adventuring, and clear your mind for optimal connection with nature.
So if getting out into the wild just for the sake of it isn’t quite enough for you to start doing it more, then maybe these health benefits of camping might just be the thing you need to enjoy time outside a little more.