Guest blog post by Conrad Novak, Survivor’s Fortress
Everyone is trying to do something to get healthy, stay in shape, or find a therapeutic treatment that does not involve surgery or pills. In our daily lives, there are plenty of solutions, but they always seem dissatisfying. Thankfully, the answer is stored right within our very bodies. Our bodies were evolved and designed for specific settings – and the city is not it. Even better, there is mounting scientific evidence that going outside can provide numerous benefits to your health. In this article, we will present 5 health benefits of hitting the outdoors often. After reading this article, you will not be able to rationalize staying inside all the time anymore.
1. Soft Tissue
While the outdoors can technically be considered the sidewalk, the wilds will present completely different circumstances for your “workout.” It should come as little surprise that getting outdoors more often can help you build up your soft tissues, though the extent to which this applies may surprise some. For instance, the soft tissues we commonly think of are muscles and fat, and the general expectation is that by working out–even if you are simply hiking–you will build muscle and lose fat. If all other aspects of your lifestyle are managed, then this is likely true–until your body adapts to the new workload. The thing people may not know is that your bones are also considered soft tissue, and they also get a major benefit from being outdoors.
Basically, by stressing the bones in a variety of ways, as happens naturally when you hike or do some other three-dimensional action, they get stronger little by little over time everywhere equally. This differs from the bone strength generated by striking something or doing a repetitive motion over and over in that the bone will strengthen at the point of stress for those motions and strengthens everywhere for three-dimensional ones. Getting outdoors more will also help stretch and loosen your tendons and ligaments which will inherently allow more blood to flow to these collagen-based tissues. One thing to keep in mind is that the benefits your soft tissues get from going outside will constitute maintenance and toning. Unless you are legitimately pushing yourself in some way while outdoors, you should not expect drastic results.
2. Mental Health
There is an age-old adage relating to spending time outdoors and the curative effect it can have on one’s mental health. Well, science has recently come out in support of that age-old wisdom passed down through the years in the form of an aphorism–and this should not be seen as some milquetoast response to a mild effect like with many holistic therapies. The difference that going outdoors and spending time in nature can make on the average person’s mental health is so significant that you should likely be getting out in nature no matter what–even if you just go and sit down for an hour or two. Regardless, study after study has shown that spending more time in the outdoors has a dramatic effect on improving mental health both for the already healthy and for those who might struggle with a condition.
Due to a number of factors that are likely related to how we evolved, being in nature has a calming effect on the mind. Part of this is likely due to the sheer amount of mental stimulation that the wilds provide when compared to the relative homogeneity of an urban setting. Even though our conscious mind might become quickly bored with “nothing to do,” our subconscious instinct is soaking up all of the information. On top of that, our behaviors and instinct are developed for natural settings, not the routine of urban settings. This speaks to a primal sense of how the world should work which is why, once you let go, the natural world is incredibly relaxing. When you consider the effects that getting physically healthy in general provide your mental health, it is a win-win situation.
Out of the different benefits that getting outside more can provide you, few of them are as dramatic as the benefits to your cardiopulmonary system. The cardiopulmonary is basically the combination of your lungs and heart as well as the rest of the circulatory system. As such, it only seems natural that getting active and getting outdoors can provide a wonderful form of exercise which may not test your muscles too hard but will open your lungs and strengthen your heart. From an external perspective, wild nature is less likely to have the kind of pollutants in the same concentrations that you would expect in the city. As such, the very air is cleaner in the outdoors and your lungs respond by greedily drinking in the exceptionally clean air. This has a tendency to lead the body to start taking deeper breaths which will strengthen the diaphragm and improve breathing in other contexts as well, like when you are asleep.
Of course, the real benefit to your cardiopulmonary health from being outdoors comes with the inherent requirement to be more active. Humans evolved to move all the time throughout the day, even if we are not necessarily testing ourselves. As such, the sedentary lifestyle we live in cities leaves our bodies weakened without additional activity to simulate our evolutionary settings. Spending time outdoors and walking around is a great way to simulate these conditions, and your body responds by developing a better lung capacity and a heart that pumps blood more efficiently. It even has the tendency to strengthen your circulatory system and help clear plaque from blood vessels. It is important to remember that by strengthening the cardiopulmonary system, you are able to better oxygenate the other cells of your body which allows them to run at a better performance or for a longer time.
While it may seem a bit odd and is likely not the type of benefits that you might consider when spending time outdoors, the digestive benefits of going into nature are especially apt for our time in history. Never in human evolution have people had access to so much food, so many different types of food, and no information about their food. This leads to people making bad dietary decisions which will not only cause them to gain weight, but it often carries with it a fair number of digestive issues as well. Keep in mind, losing weight will often help alleviate some dietary problems, and spending time outdoors works along that same principle. While this will not be able to make curative strides towards major digestive issues, it can provide immediate palliative effects and the long-term weight loss benefits will certainly help digestive issues.
When you go outdoors and stay active, your metabolism increases which will then trigger your digestive system in various ways. For one, it will often demand that you eat more at first to account for the expended calories, but by sticking it out, your metabolism will adapt to the new demands. This will show itself in other areas that are not quite so polite to discuss but are still legitimately beneficial–especially for those who need it. The cycle and regularity of bowel movements can be stabilized with the addition of physical activity and mental well-being–two things that spending time outdoors provide that a gym may not. Finally, spending time outdoors will eventually help your body get to a point where it simply digests food better–assuming you do not have a major condition. In this instance, you will often see a decrease in symptoms like bloating, heartburn, or nausea.
Despite the title, there is nothing superficial about the benefits that spending time outdoors can provide the topmost parts of your body nor should you dismiss them out of hand. In this instance, the source of the benefits is not as much physical activity, though that definitely strengthens and provides benefits to each system individually as well as the body holistically. Instead, we are referring the simple pleasure of sunlight, another thing our bodies evolved to be in near-constant exposure to sunlight during the day and that we rarely find ourselves in today. This is actually part of the benefits provided to mental health as well, though disentangling how much benefit sunlight provides mental health outdoors in the total gestalt of positive influences has proved difficult.
That said, the benefits of sunlight on things like the skin, the eyes, and even the hair and nails should not be discounted as merely a pleasant surprise, because the effects of regular exposure to natural sunlight, as opposed to the UV light bulbs used in tanning salons, are greater than you likely conceived. For instance, beyond a nice tan, exposure to the sun can help clear up a number of minor skin conditions–though it is important to make sure to protect your skin from the sun at first if you have a tendency to burn. Once you have built up even a light base tan, however, you should not need any sunscreen. The sun also provides plenty of benefits for the eyes, but one of the best is likely having the eye focus natural light, as opposed to the artificial light from light bulbs, like they have evolved to do.
It seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but it turns out that doing the things and being in the places that humans have always done and been has a tendency to make the body healthier. While this by no means suggests we should all leave the comforts and advances of urban life to hit the trails and return to Mother Nature, but it does provide some justification for almost everyone–no matter their excuses–to get outside. Through this list, we showed you 5 health benefits of hitting the outdoors often, but there are actually so many more we could not share with you or else we would be writing an entire book. To find out more health benefits of spending time outdoors as well as other tips and tricks for outdoorsmanship, check out my camping guide.
About the author:
Conrad Novak is a proud father of two children and blogger from good ‘ol Gresham, Oregon. When he has the time, he enjoys paying a visit to the Oxbow Regional Park with his family to explore the amazing wildlife of the park, fishing and kayaking in the Sandy River, and cooking some delicious meals for a great campfire experience at the end of the day. You can read more of his content at SurvivorsFortress.com