We love camping and being outside. That seems to be an understatement. But have you ever wondered why our minds and bodies enjoy it so much? Science has caught up and can inform us what happens biologically when we spend time outdoors.

  1. Our bodies are generally happier. In a 2018 report from the University of East Angelia in the UK and published in the journal Environmental Research, researchers compared the health of individuals who lived near green spaces (open, undeveloped land) and those who lived in urban areas with little exposure to green spaces. What did they find? “”We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration. “People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol — a physiological marker of stress.” This study clearly shows there’s a relationship between health and nature, one that is beneficial for us if we spend time outdoors, even if home is situated in the middle of a busy city.
  2. We get Vitamin D. Not in pill form. The real stuff. In an article in the Harvard Health Letter, it’s explained that your vitamin D levels rise when you’re outdoors. Similar to the findings of the study from University of East Angelia, the article refers to studies showing a strong correlation between vitamin D and our bodies being able to fight certain conditions, such as osteoporosis, cancer, depression, heart attacks. To get that vitamin D we need to be outside in the sun, which leads to the creation and activation of this important vitamin. Even 15 minutes a day can make a big difference, but when you’re camping, you’re getting big doses of sunlight – and vitamin D as a result. In addition, sunlight is known to help us keep our serotonin – the hormone that stabilizes mood and sense of well-being – levels up. It’s no wonder we feel more relaxed and optimistic when we’re at the campsite.
  3. We take a break from the artificial. Human beings are great inventors and builders. We developed cars, skyscrapers, and smartphones. There can be beauty and certainly usefulness there, but it’s all artificial compared to nature and it all takes a toll on our physical and mental well-being. Being outside allows us to detox from the screens, the noise, and the general blah of society. There’s a growing trend known as “forest bathing,” which has been picked up from Japan. According to certified Forest Therapy guide Melanie Choukas-Bradley in an article by NPR, “The aim of forest bathing, to slow down and become immersed in the natural environment.” The author goes on to explain, “She helped us tune in to the smells, textures, tastes and sights of the forest. We took in our surroundings by using all our senses.  It felt a bit like a meditation” Studies from Japan have shown the positive effects of walking in forests, including reduced blood pressure and reducing stress hormones. Forest smells, specifically tree compounds, are also key, which is why guide Melanie Choukas-Bradley was encouraging breathing techniques and pointing out smells, sights, and sounds during the outing. According to a study back in 2009, “inhaling these tree-derived compounds — known as phytoncides — reduced concentrations of stress hormones in men and women and enhanced the activity of white-blood cells known as natural killer cells.”
  4. We move our bodies more. Camping, as relaxing as it makes us feel, encourages us to be more active. It begins at the campsite: setting up, cooking food, moving things around as we need them and don’t need them. Then, we want to do things outside, such as hiking, biking, swimming, and kayaking. It doesn’t need to be strenuous exercise to be beneficial. We just need to move. All this activity is either necessary or fun, so we don’t focus as much on “needing to work out.” In an article on WebMD, “Research shows that exercisers burn 10 percent more calories when they walk or run outdoors than they do when they hoof it inside on a treadmill at the same speed.” Another important component of camping is being able to return to our circadian rhythm, our body’s natural clock. We get better sleep, which helps us stay at a healthy weight because our bodies can more efficiently burn calories.
  5. We strengthen relationships. A study from Iowa State University focused on the impact family camping experiences have on family functioning and parenting. Sixty percent of respondents indicated that family camping reinforced good parenting and 86 percent indicated that it reinforced family relationships. There are several reasons why. We remove ourselves from distractions found at home, so we are better able to focus and listen to each other. This increases communication among family members as well as interactions. Families do activities together, exercise together, and depend on one another during activities as well as in management of the campsite. As bonds deepen, the general sense of happiness is improved for everyone, and relationships become nearly unbreakable, just a couple benefits of family camping.