Health Benefits of Camping and Leading an Outdoorsy Life

Any camping enthusiast will tell you that nothing truly compares to the satisfying feeling of spending time in the great outdoors. Waking up on a crisp morning to fresh air and the chirps of songbirds are the kind of thing we outdoorsy types live for. But did you know that an array of studies have suggested that camping can reduce stress, help you sleep, cure depression and bolster your immune system? Whilst we don’t imagine doctors will start prescribing “camping” as a cure for major ailments, let’s have a look at why camping folk are likely to be healthier than their city-based brethren.


You’ll Have a Better Night’s Sleep

Scientists from the University of Colorado have discovered that the widespread availability of electrical lighting since the 1930’s has altered our internal body clocks in a way that evolution never accommodated for.


The scientists first measured a group of volunteers’ exposure to both natural and man-made light as they went about their daily lives. They also recorded their melatonin levels (the hormone in our body which causes sleepiness). Naturally, melatonin should be most highly concentrated before we go to sleep and be much less so when we awaken.


The volunteers’ melatonin levels, however, were still high several hours after waking up, highlighting that these volunteers were off their natural rhythm.


However, when the scientists took the subjects on a camping trip with no electric lighting (but a campfire for warmth at night), they discovered that their sleep cycles synchronised with the setting and rising of the sun. Although the subjects on average slept around the same length of time as they usually did, they went to sleep around two hours earlier. But, more importantly, their levels of melatonin were much lower in the morning than they had been before and the volunteers reported feeling better rested than they did in their day-to-day lives.


Getting out into the wilderness and back to your natural sleep pattern can be more restful than any beach holiday.


It’ll Enhance Your Immune System

“Shinrin-yoku” is a traditional Japanese practice of taking long walks in the forest to bolster wellness. Loosely translated as “forest-bathing”, it has (until recently) been considered an anecdotal remedy that most likely is purely psychological in effect. However, studies by the Nippon Medical School have attempted to add some real science to the folklore.


Since 2005, research teams have been working on field studies showing the effects of forest bathing trips on human immune function, namely their effect on the levels of natural killer cells (NK) and lymphocytes that prevent infection and illness. High levels of NK cells have even been shown to reduce the risk of cancer.


12 adult Japanese males were taken on a three day and two night trip to Japanese forest parks and their blood and urine were both tested for NK activity twice during the trip (on days two and three) and then on days seven and 20 after the trip had ended. The same samples were taken before the trip on a normal working day, so as to set a control measurement.


The results were remarkable, indicating that NK activity and the numbers of NK cells, were significantly higher in the forest bathing samples, compared to those taken on normal working days. Furthermore, increased NK activity lasted for more than a month after the trip ended, suggesting that a once a month “shinrin-yoku” could enable individuals to maintain a high level of NK activity.



It Can Improve Your Mental Wellbeing

Dr William Bird, Natural England’s strategic health advisor, recently stated that getting out and about while on a touring holiday can help to lower levels of depression. The link between fresh air, exercise and depression has already been well-covered, and just half an hour of exercise a day can improve mood and stave off depressing thoughts.


This does not mean that outdoor activities merely aid those who have been diagnosed with depression. For instance, in a recent survey from iExplore, 75% of respondents said that “keeping physically busy while away [on holiday] helped take their minds off what was happening at home or in work”.


So why, exactly, is this the case? Interestingly, the scientists from the University of Colorado mentioned above also noted that whilst camping their volunteers received around 400% more exposure to sunlight than they would in their daily lives.


Vitamin D, which is created by the skin in response to contact with direct sunlight, has been shown to combat low moods and depression. Although little is still properly understood about depression, the combination of sunlight and exercise that is a main part of hiking and camping trips can potentially provide some relief for those suffering from these mood disorders.


So, next time your camping enthusiast friend goes on about how great camping makes you feel, he’s not being smug, he’s just well-rested, healthy and packed with vitamin D.



Author Bio:

Jamie Waddell is a medical and pharmaceuticals writer and camping enthusiast writing on behalf of Sunbourne, a campsites and caravans holiday specialist based in Wales. Whether you’re interested in camping or not, he’d like to see more people enjoying the great outdoors.

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