In today’s fast-paced world of screens and schedules, we often miss the importance of reconnecting with nature and its many benefits. Outdoor activities in nature like hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, biking, or even just sitting outside can be beneficial. Yet, the most pronounced benefits come from longer exposure to nature’s beauty. Today we’re going to explore the health benefits of camping.
Albert Einstein famously said: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Camping … for Health?
A camping trip may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ways to improve your health, but perhaps it should!
The Benefits of Camping
Besides being a great budget-friendly family activity, going camping offers a unique way to reconnect with nature. Plus, the research backs up this simple and fun activity:
1. Light Therapy for Circadian Rhythm
A 2013 study from the University of Colorado Boulder examined how camping affects natural circadian rhythm. They found that participants who camped for a week noticed major improvements in sleep patterns.
Sleep researcher Dr. Michael Breus explains that camping for one week (away from artificial light) resets circadian clocks. More specifically, the study found that:
- The camper’s melatonin levels rose two hours earlier when camping than on regular nights around artificial light.
- Study participants’ sleep schedules all normalized in their natural settings. In fact, early birds and night owls all adjusted to the same schedule.
Major health problems (from heart disease to cancer) are often linked to poor sleep quality or lack of sleep. A simple activity like camping may help the body normalize sleep cycles and improve health.
2. Forest Bathing Stress Relief
The Japanese have a national practice called “Forest Bathing” or shinrin-yoku. It’s been a national public health practice for them since the 1980s. The Japanese have spent millions of dollars studying the effects of this time in nature with surprising findings:
- A weekend in the woods naturally increases the presence of natural killer (NK) cells in the body. This increase lasted for up to a month after a single weekend in nature.
- Forest air contains phytoncide, a natural compound from plants and trees. Some research shows inhaling phytoncide can improve immune system function.
- Forest bathing also helps with stress reduction. Another study found cortisol, blood pressure, and other health markers improved with just 30 minutes a day in nature. Compared to spending a day in the city, a day in the forest helps us de-stress and have more parasympathetic nerve activity. Nature time also helped lower sympathetic nerve activity, meaning less stress levels.
3. Improved Sleep
As mentioned above, camping away from artificial light improves the circadian clock. Logically, it also improves sleep.
Sure, sleeping on the ground in a thin sleeping bag doesn’t sound like the perfect way to relax. But studies show that people get deeper and more restorative sleep in nature. One factor may be that people aren’t staying up as late watching TV while camping. This alone improves sleep and increases melatonin production.
You’re also getting 8 hours of grounding in to reset your body’s natural electric field. It might not be as comfortable as your mattress at home. However, you’re likely getting biologically better sleep.
4. Time to Unplug & Family Time
One of my favorite parts of the camping experience is disconnecting from technology and spending time with family members. Sure, we all know we should put down the phone and spend more time with loved ones. But this can be hard to do when we’re wrapped up in the business of daily life.
Each of my kids has a good quality hiking backpack with their own gear. If it’s your first time camping or you’re just looking for some ideas, here’s our gear checklist. My kids love going camping and getting a chance to use it all.
5. A Breath of Fresh Air
Another tangible benefit of camping is the abundance of fresh air. Experts warn indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air. They encourage opening windows and ventilating our homes often. Spending time outdoors, especially overnight, is a great way to get fresh air’s benefits. Areas with a lot of trees have a higher oxygen concentration in the environment. This makes it easier to breathe and relax.
6. Exercise in Natural Beauty
One of the best things about camping? The natural boredom. Without TVs, video games, and the many distractions of home, we actually want to explore. This naturally leads to physical activity in a high-oxygen, natural light environment that makes movement even more beneficial! This has a net positive effect on our physical health and overall health.
And if you’re doing camping activities like swimming or kayaking in the sunshine, you’ll get vitamin D too!
7. Mental Health Benefits
Camping not only helps relieve stress, but it can also improve mental health. When we’re tired and our circadian rhythms aren’t working well, it takes a toll on our mental health. As a society, our frequent social media and electronic device use also have their downsides. Then there’s the stress and busyness of everyday life.
Camping benefits our mental health by giving us a break from many of the stressors and distractions. You can learn new skills like foraging and making shelters. These problem-solving activities help foster creativity and nurture our brain cells. Now you just have to worry about getting that campfire started!
Tips for Camping
Ready to spend some time in the great outdoors? Here are a few tips to get the maximum benefits:
- Ditch the artificial light: The studies all noted the biggest benefit of camping away from all artificial light, including flashlights. Stick to natural light sources like a campfire, candles, and natural lanterns to avoid the bright LED flashlights.
- Smartphones: It’s so easy for us to pull out electronics, especially when they’re portable and easy to grab. Ditch the social media scrolling, videos, and unnecessary smartphone use while you’re out.
- Cook natural foods: Don’t use camping as an excuse to eat s’mores. Unless they’re made with homemade marshmallows and healthy ingredients of course. and other junk food. Campfires are wonderful for roasting natural foods like meat, vegetables, and even fruit. My kids love roasted apples on the campfire. Here’s a whole list of healthy camping food ideas.
- Stay for the long haul: Studies showed the most benefits from three or more days of camping. Plan a week-long family trip and enjoy all of the benefits!
- Get good gear: Few things are worse than being caught in a tent that leaks during a rainstorm. Invest in some good camping gear and it will last for years.
Ways to Get (Some) of the Benefits of Camping While at Home
Despite all of the benefits, I know a few people who adamantly refuse to camp. They hate the idea of braving the great outdoors! If a team of wild horses couldn’t tear you away from the comforts of home, there are a few things you can do to get some camping benefits.
- Reduce artificial light: One of the biggest benefits of being outdoors is the break from artificial lighting. Even if you aren’t ready to sleep in the woods, you can still manipulate the blue light in your home for better health. We use orange spectrum light lamps at night. I also wear blue light blocking glasses after dark to reduce blue light exposure.
- Clean the air: Another benefit to being outside is the abundance of fresh air. Keep your indoor air clean with these tips.
- Get enough sleep: Many of the benefits attributed to camping come from sleeping more! This is one health tip every expert seems to agree on. Plus it’s free for the most part. Make sleep a priority and make time to get enough of it. Here are some tips to improve sleep.
Does your family enjoy camping? Any favorite camping spots? Leave a comment and share below!