Updated: Jun 22
So a friend convinced you to join her on a short trail walk, and she talked non stop about how good it feels.
What is the whole deal about? You decided to join her and get the answers.
Plenty of anecdotal anecdotal evidence exists for people claiming that spending time in the great outdoors is good for your health and well-being.
But why is that exactly? I mean, I could feel great sitting on my bean bag with a cup of good coffee, reading.
There is more than meets the eye here because feeling great is hard to describe.
The more pertinent question is how does feeling good manifest itself, and what long-term benefits does it have? I could be huffing and puffing up a hill for nothing.
Let’s dig in.
We usually spend almost 83% of our lives indoors. Rapid urbanisation takes people away from rural, green spaces and into built-up, high-traffic cities.
There are many potential benefits to going outside. We can broadly fit them into Mental, physiological and social categories.
One of the first outdoor activities beginners undertake is to walk on a trail or do day hikes. It involves walking, an act that comes naturally to us. On your first few hikes, it is natural for people to wonder at the trees and the pristine water bodies and perhaps observe some birds or animals. As you are following your curiosity, your feet are doing their job without your prompting.
This is what we can call unfocused mindfulness.
These words together seem strange but essential means a state when you don’t have to focus on what you are doing (walking) but only on what you are feeling (wonder, curiosity). Typical mindfulness advice comes with avoiding distractions, but the forests are full of them.
Photo by James Wheeler, UnSplash
Try and remember the last time you experienced this feeling in your urban setting.
There’s good reason to say that being outdoors makes us happier. The feelings of awe, breathing in deeply, and exposure to new sounds, smells, and sights reduce the impact of mental health issues.
This happens because our general mood improves, and our stress levels decrease. The effect on our well-being is positive and long-lasting.
After you experience the change, you are hooked. The activity does not have to be hard or long duration. Just a 30 min walk among the trees on trails can elevate your mood.
Get out, and smell the flowers. These flowers, like lavender or jasmine, give off scents that have been shown to reduce anxiety. If you feel overwhelmed, relax with a quick walk in a local park or hillside.
When we go outdoors, we exert ourselves in some way while climbing, walking, or swimming. We get exposed to sunlight, sweat and eat the limited food or drink we have. It is exercise in another form.
Most outdoor activities are unregimented – you don’t need to dance to tunes or perform a set of repetitions. The terrain defines how easy or difficult the activity is for you. What you control is how often and how long you stop to recover. This undefined way to exercise has immense benefits in building your endurance. The more you do these activities, the better you get at it.
Photo by Holly Mandarich, via Unsplash
Exposure to sunlight is highly beneficial as it gives us Vitamin D3 and resets our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm controls the quality of our sleep, which determines how good our immunity is. Better sleep is also known to help control weight and reduce stress.
The relationship between green spaces and the health of people living in that environment is well documented. People in rural areas where most greenery still exists are generally more active and healthier. Being surrounded by natural surroundings helps them live longer too.
Boost Your Creativity
Psychologists found that after four days in the backcountry with no modern technology or media, backpackers scored 50% higher on creativity tests. What a fantastic insight this is.
In urban environments, we are constantly dealing with dramatic attention-seeking stimulation. We are alert and attentive to avoid being hit by a car, for example. Even if we wanted to be, the environment kills any creative thinking.
The stimuli found in nature replenish our ability to explore. We are less distracted, and there are no shiny objects to snatch our attention. Time outdoors is a slow, gentle unfolding of things that satiate our senses.
Getting out for fresh air can help your brain relax, break out of thought patterns and boost creativity.
Maximise Your Memory
Spending time outdoors creates beautiful memories. At the same time, it can also help boost your memory function.
While walking or hiking, you are focused on what you are experiencing more than anything. The beating of your heart, the wind in the trees, or the sight of a magnificent blue sky. Memories are deeply associated with feeling and sensory inputs. And here, you have ample time to take that in, register it in your brain and store it for long-term recall.
You are also subconsciously engaging your cognitive skills to keep yourself safe. Am I stepping right so that I don’t fall? Is this the correct route to the end? Have I consumed enough water?
The amazing thing is that even though you have a fully engaged brain, you don’t feel tired or overwhelmed. Your brain is happy making memories and increasing its capacity to make more.
Never feel alone
Have you ever felt afraid to wander by yourself? Intimidated because you think you are not a good hiker? MyTrailPals is exactly the platform you need so that you never have to be intimidated or feel inadequate in the outdoors.
Meeting new friends can help beat any loneliness you feel. They can immediately put you at ease by sharing their learning. In their company, you will accomplish far more than you could alone.
MyTrailPals is a community of people at varying levels of outdoor expertise and individuals who work to make everyone feel included.
With MyTrailPals you will never be alone in the outdoors again.
How MyTrailPals Helps
In a world that relentlessly demands our attention, it is in nature's embrace that we find solace and rejuvenation for our weary souls. The outdoors offers a sanctuary for our bodies to thrive, our minds to find respite, and our social connections to flourish.
Perhaps the most extraordinary gift nature bestows on us is restoring and strengthening our social fabric.
MyTrailPals was created for precisely this. The app facilitates meaningful connections between people and encourages friendship as we rediscover the interconnectedness of all living things.
Go on, share your outdoor adventures, join outdoor events and host some. This is your chance to invite your friends to join you in a journey of outdoor exploration.