Why Go Outside?

Is there anything better than being in the outdoors? The beautiful landscapes, the unlimited amount of activities, the pure feeling of excitement and peace and connection… it’s the perfect way to spend a day. And it’s such a simple thing to do — you can have the fanciest, most expensive gear or nothing but dirty hands and bare feet to take part. Nature should be for everyone, and it is increasingly becoming the place for those looking for employment.  

It’s no surprise that more people are flocking to this burgeoning industry, and it’s not just to work in their happy place (although that doesn’t hurt). The government recently put the outdoor industry size at $373 billion. There has been a steady increase in the past three years of all demographics participating in an outdoor activity, many for the first time. In their 2018 Outdoor Participation Report, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) reported that forty-nine percent of the population aged 6 and over spent time outside!

In a world that is increasingly driven by technology and where adolescents are more likely to play video games with their friends than ride bikes with them, this is a positive statistic. The OIA also reported that adults who were introduced to the outdoors as children are more likely to participate in adulthood. This means one thing: get outside early, and get outside often! Kids more involved in outdoor activities reap many benefits, including higher motor skills like balance and coordination; a more robust immune system; higher levels of vitamin D; a respect for nature; and so much more. As a kid raised in the mountains and the trees, I can confirm the positive impacts of nature on my own childhood, at least. It helped to boost my confidence levels by feeling competent, and it gave me opportunities for physical activity when I only held a passing interest in more traditional sports. The outdoor world impacted me so much that I make my living writing about it and working for a non-profit dedicated to it. Give kids a chance to experience nature, whether it’s a walk in your tiny neighborhood park or a five-day rafting trip down the Colorado. It will open their eyes to some of the Earth’s truly beautiful creations, and maybe it will even ignite enough passion in them to focus the rest of their lives on it.

The benefits are not limited to children, of course. Adults can get just as much good out of taking part in outdoor recreation. Walking in the forest has been proven to boost memory, and it’s a huge de-stressor. That wash of calm that comes over you in nature isn’t just a feeling; both heart rate and cortisol decrease compared to the rates while being in a city. Spending time outdoors has also been linked to lowering blood pressure, eliminating mental fatigue, and helping with anxiety and depression.

None of this is to say that you should cancel your doctor’s appointment, throw out your medication, and have a good roll in the leaves. But sometimes life in our overstimulating world can get, well, overstimulating. Being outside is like a little reset for your brain. The only thing that could ever get me through my college finals before the summer break was breaking out my hammock, hanging it up and just clearing my mind for a while. The humid New Orleans air would rock me gently while I looked up at ancient oaks and a beautiful blue sky. All of that coupled with the chirping of birds and cicadas would give me the mental refresh that I so needed to focus a little more, study a little extra, or right pages of my essays. Obviously this isn’t a groundbreaking discovery, but it almost felt like a magic trick. Even if I was just a couple hundred feet from my school and only a couple of feet from the bustle of drivers and the streetcar, that little slice of nature was like a magic eraser for my brain. Nature doesn’t have to be scary, or far away, or even be defined the same way by everyone. It could be the Andes or your backyard. It’s about what nature means to you, and that there are so many positive ways to be a part of it and benefits to get out of it. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, instead of taking a Netflix break or procrastinating on Facebook, find a tree or a little patch of grass for yourself and take a deep breath. Take stock of the textures, sounds, and smells around you and let the breeze carry away your worries, if only for a moment.

Nature is many wonderful things. But like anything, it is not perfect. Access to the outdoors is, unfortunately, a privilege that many do not have. It takes money for gear and to be part of teams, access to transportation to green spaces, and time to dedicate to activities. Everyone deserves access to nature! For those of us who are able, it’s up to us to make sure that the rest of us can enjoy it as well.

Crafted By: Bess Turner