Why Go Outside? - The Physical and Mental health benefits of being outside.

I loaded the canoe this past weekend and became fully aware of how badly needed a night under the stars truly was. I always enjoy the feeling of loading up a pack with nothing more than the bare essentials, food for a few days and enjoying some solitude in nature. Hiking for 6-8 hours a day climbing hills, rocks and mountains while breathing fresh air, working my body and getting that cathartic release only nature can provide. Even when heading into an Ontario provincial park, I still get a bit of a feeling like I'm stepping into something unknown, even if it has been hiked thousands of times before me. It is reconnecting with that wild feeling, I'm fully self reliant to carry my own food, filter my own water, forage for wood to start a campfire and rely upon my own instincts if (and often when) things don't go to plan. A weekly trail run or a day hike with friends is a great booster shot, but every now and then a full few days in the backcountry is essential. I always come back feeling refreshed, grounded and most importantly with an improved physical and mental resiliency. The biggest problem in life becomes easier to solve, greatest fear ready to be faced and any resentment or harm easily accepted.

I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and clinical depression which requires daily effort. If there was a life saving pill I had to take once a day which would allow me to live freely of the symptoms, I would take gratefully take it with rigour and discipline. That is how I view exercise. It isn't a chore, nor is it done with resentment. It is equally the most essential and joyful part of my day, and I gratefully reap the rewards it sows.

There is no denying the benefits of a daily physical fitness regimen. Even when a mental conditioning component isn't a primary focus, we feel objectively feel better. I find escaping to nature and the outdoors is like throwing jet fuel onto my fitness regimen, below are some of the key benefits to being in nature:

Stress Reduction

  • Being outside lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in the body. Cortisol is a necessary hormone, and can help kick our body into action. Basically the body's alarm system. But it is all too common in today's daily life now to have elevated levels when we really need to give our bodies a rest.

  • Decreased tension, confusion and anger. These feelings and emotions are byproducts of always being in an elevated, hyper aware state. Being outdoors, breathing fresh air and not being constantly stimulated helps relieve tension, your mood will naturally follow.

  • Exposure to sunlight combined with the physical exertion of a good hike increases serotonin levels which your body uses to stabilize our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.Direct benefits include mood enhancement, reduced feelings of depression, fatigue, anxiety and improved cognitive function.

Improved Mental Focus

  • When spending time outside we become more aware of the weather and environmental changes throughout the day. When working out in nature, mental focus is required to adjust to subtle changes. We sharpen our body's ability to adapt, without realizing it. Think about a trail run vs. a road run. There is no "zoning out" on a trail run, the second you do is when an errant root will find you and humble you quickly.

  • Natural Landscapes = Interesting Views! Visual distraction decreases our rate of perceived exertion i.e. Train Harder!

  • It is also shown that those who incorporate outdoor exercise into their fitness regimen are more likely to adhere to their program.

Recovery From Structured Training

  • Break the tedium of indoor workouts. The benefits of working out regularly are incontrovertible. However a problem many identify with their routines are... well they become routine.

  • Outdoor exercise is a great supplement to any fitness regimen and doesn't need to be too strenuous. In fact is a phenomenal means to recover.

  • Hiking, trail running, climbing all will increase blood flow to trained muscles and help deliver oxygen and nutrients improving recovery.

Work Different Muscle Groups

  • For the love of all that is holy, take your physical health and let it loose outside. it is where it is meant to be used and enjoyed.

  • Move naturally, adapt to changing and uneven terrain.

  • Target and activate stabilizing muscles throughout your ankles, knees and core.

Maybe it has been a result of sitting at a desk for too long in my career. Maybe it's from taking the beauty that surrounds me for granted for far too long. Whatever it was, I have become a huge proponent for taking my body out into nature as often as possible.

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