The benefits of the great outdoors
Why is getting out in the great outdoors more important than ever?
After the year we’ve had, in and out of lockdowns, there have been restricted school camps/holidays/large group outings ect. It is important more than ever to get outdoors. There are probably 2 main reasons why this is.
Firstly, enjoying doing things that we love has a very chemical and hormonal effect on our bodies. When we do things we love, it releases important “feel good” chemicals in our brain called endorphins. When we see, feel or interact with the world, our brain interprets events through different connections (relay stations). This rarely happens directly, but it alters how an event is perceived. This is normal and happens to everyone.
When we do something we enjoy, the release of endorphins makes the experience more enjoyable. This is due to it’s effect on these relay stations in the brain. Conversely, when we are isolated, stressed or in a difficult situation, your body releases it’s normal stress hormone, cortisone. Cortisone is an important immediate “fight or flight” hormone. However, over a longer period it “dampens” the effect of these positive activities. This makes life more difficult to cope with. It can even increase the perception of “pain”, even if there has not been any further injuries.
The second aspect that is now really obvious after emerging from lockdown, is the lose of muscle strength. A lot of people just haven’t been able to keep up with their normal exercise routines. The lose of muscle strength has probably been a bigger problem than the lack of fitness. Decreased strength means the normal activities that people loved to do became much harder. As people further reduced their activity level, we saw a greater amount of falls and injuries. These had previously been resolved due to good muscle strength but had since started re-emerging.
Our kids have been locked indoors, behind screens, for most of 2020. What does being in the great outdoors offer them?
The biggest thing for kids is to be active again. Kids learn a lot of their motor and development skills through play and interaction with the environment and other children. The restriction from lockdown reduced this.
Allowing children to “play” outside and rediscover skills, such as agility, balance and co-ordination are very important life skills to develop at a young age. In addition, children who play sport are more likely to play sport as adults and be active. This is important for girls in particular, who often stop playing sports after high school and even fewer continue after University. Making sport and being active part of their lives sets up good, life long active habits.
Secondly, being outdoors and interacting with other children is important for a child’s social skill development. Children need to spend time and practice being outside whilst interacting with other children. So, being outdoors facilitates this process and helps build these skills.
How does being outside help us reconnect as a family?
As humans, a major part of our evolution is being connected to others and being part of a group. Being outdoors and being involved in share activities as a family is part of this process.
Being outdoors with family is a great place to do shared activities. When we do things together as a group, we help build our social connections. Chemically, we also release important “connection” chemicals in the brain such as oxytocin and serotonin. These chemicals make us feel good, but make us feel “loved”, supported and connected to others.
How does being outside help us recharge, reset, regroup as individuals?
As individuals, being outdoors usually helps you gain a different perception of the world. It allows us to see things from a different angle and face the world with more vigour. When we learn something new or are performing a complicated task, you brain is fantastic at solving new problems and finding a new solution. But, we need rest in order to do this.
When you are stuck on a problem, stepping away from the situation and spending time outdoors allows you to get a fresh view on the world. It will allow your brain to do its job and make new connections. Your ability to learn is amazing! But, it only happens when you allow the process of learning and then rest and consolidation to occur. Spending time outside, slowing down and allowing this process to occur is the fastest way to make change.
If people can’t afford to participate in outdoor activities (for one reason or another), what are some things they can do at their local park or their backyards, to reap the full benefits of being outdoors?
If you can’t afford to participate in formal, structured activities or do not have the time to do so, just start with some time outside. Most things in life are about forming the habit. Start something, such as walking for 20 minutes a day or playing basketball with your children in the local park every Thursday. It doesn’t have to be a big change, you just need to start. Habits form when you start doing something that makes you uncomfortable or is inconvenient, and do it badly for a period of time.
We all go through that awkward stage with a new activity and feel like we are “doing it wrong”. This is normal and is a good signal that you are doing the “right” thing. Soon, this activity that you had to think about, becomes part of the brain responsible for habit, the Basal Ganglia. It becomes your normal, so start and stick to it. You will get the benefits from the great outdoors and what to achieve in your life.
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