The Top 10 Benefits of Spending Time in Nature

by Dave Clinton

Brecon BeaconsA great irony of our world today is that while we can vir­tu­al­ly con­nect with almost any­one, any­where with the click of a mouse, the sad real­i­ty for many of us is that the fre­quen­cy and qual­i­ty of our face-to-face inter­ac­tions has dimin­ished.

Armed with smart­phones, it can be dif­fi­cult to escape the instant sat­is­fac­tion of a new ‘like’ on Face­book, a response to your clever Tweet or an incom­ing text mes­sage from a friend or client. As a result, we often find our­selves pulled in mul­ti­ple direc­tions while speak­ing with friends, fam­i­ly mem­bers and work col­leagues. We are phys­i­cal­ly present but often not emo­tion­al­ly present and there­in lies an impor­tant chal­lenge.

With­out a con­scious effort to effec­tive­ly man­age (and per­haps lim­it) these intru­sions, this pat­tern con­tin­ues and becomes the new norm and we can begin to lose our abil­i­ty to be ful­ly present with our­selves and with those around us. We can also see the neg­a­tive impact in our reduced abil­i­ty to engage with activ­i­ties which require our sus­tained focus — be that grap­pling with a new con­cept, read­ing for work or for plea­sure or doing the think­ing nec­es­sary to stay rel­e­vant in a world where we are being out­sourced or off­shored at an alarm­ing rate.

Liv­ing in Lon­don as I do, it is easy to for­get that you are sur­round­ed by 100s of miles of sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed coun­try­side where you can walk for hours with­out see­ing a sin­gle soul, espe­cial­ly now as the days get short­er.

In ear­ly 2012, I joined a num­ber of local walk­ing and hik­ing groups. And in recent months, I have spent long days in the Great Out­doors from the remote­ness and beau­ty of the Bre­con Bea­cons to the cliffs and salt marsh­es of the Nor­folk coast, hik­ing with a group of like-mind­ed wan­der­ers through wild and beau­ti­ful land­scapes. As I’ve redis­cov­ered, there is no sub­sti­tute for an immer­sive expe­ri­ence like this in terms of dis­con­nect­ing from infor­ma­tion over­load and for recon­nect­ing with myself and with oth­ers.

As I reflect on these recent expe­ri­ences, I’ve iden­ti­fied the top 10 ben­e­fits that I achieved while out in nature with oth­ers. I sus­pect that many of you will expe­ri­ence some­thing sim­i­lar.

  1. Con­nect­ing face-to-face: for me there is no sub­sti­tute for con­nect­ing with peo­ple in per­son. While we have made tremen­dous leaps in our abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate instant­ly and cheap­ly with peo­ple all around the world, the price for that can be a reduced abil­i­ty to real­ly lis­ten and hear what those around us are say­ing. (This is espe­cial­ly an issue for those of us with part­ners and chil­dren)
  2. Redis­cov­er­ing the lost art of con­ver­sa­tion: With an emp­ty road ahead and the day stretch­ing out in front of you, there is a lux­u­ry in know­ing that your trav­el­ling com­pan­ions will be there along­side for that day’s jour­ney and that there is lit­tle chance of out­side inter­rup­tion.
  3. Meet­ing new peo­ple and mak­ing new friends: Let’s face it, as we get a lit­tle old­er we run the risk that our social circle(s) and our world can become a lit­tle small­er and very pre­dictable. And for many folks that work long hours in the city and live in the sub­urbs, it can be hard to make friends out­side of the work­place espe­cial­ly if you’ve moved there from else­where and don’t already have an estab­lished social net­work. For those of us that work from home or inde­pen­dent­ly, it is a great way to stay con­nect­ed.Seven Sisters Lighthouse
  4. Escap­ing from infor­ma­tion over­load: I con­stant­ly seek news and infor­ma­tion (a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem today with a nev­er-end­ing news cycle and access to unlim­it­ed sources of infor­ma­tion) and I have to work hard to pull myself away from a mul­ti­tude of con­stant­ly updat­ed infor­ma­tion chan­nels. Out in nature, where phone cov­er­age is either weak or non-exis­tent, it is much eas­i­er to be more ful­ly present with myself and with oth­ers.
  5. New busi­ness con­nec­tions: For all the ben­e­fits that an online net­work like Linked-in can bring, there’s noth­ing like time spent face-to-face to rapid­ly build the know, like and trust fac­tor.
  6. Pos­i­tive after-effects: I find the pos­i­tive after-effects stay with me well into the work week, leav­ing me more ener­gised, more moti­vat­ed and over­all — hap­pi­er. This not only ben­e­fits me but equal­ly, those around me.
  7. Vari­ety: Exer­cise rou­tines can get bor­ing pret­ty quick­ly and if we do not con­tin­u­al­ly chal­lenge our bod­ies in new and dif­fer­ent ways then the ben­e­fits can be lim­it­ed. Hik­ing in unfa­mil­iar ter­rain can mix up our exer­cise rou­tines nice­ly.
  8. Learn­ing new skills — there’s usu­al­ly an oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn new skills, whether that’s learn­ing how to read maps, using a com­pass to find your way around, devel­op­ing climb­ing, abseil­ing or scram­bling skills or just learn­ing how to become more resource­ful when you’re pre­sent­ed with an unex­pect­ed chal­lenge.
  9. Great exer­cise: Walk­ing for 10 or 15 miles is so much more inter­est­ing when you’re with oth­ers. And when the going gets a lit­tle tough, you’re much more like­ly to push your­self to do more as part of a group.
  10. Pos­i­tive health ben­e­fits. Recent stud­ies have shown that sit­ting down for pro­longed peri­ods is reduc­ing our life expectan­cy and that going to the gym or exer­cis­ing 1x per day is not in itself enough to coun­ter­act the effects of sit­ting in front of a com­put­er or a TV for hours per day. The key is to move — so tak­ing a day or a week­end to move ticks this box nice­ly.

Final­ly, at the end of a long hike, there is some­thing quite spe­cial about that end-of-the-day bev­er­age. Whether it’s a sooth­ing hot choco­late or a cold beer — it def­i­nite­ly does go down a treat!!

Brecon Beacons LakeGet­ting start­ed

There are 100’s of hik­ing groups to choose from on Meet­Up and most like­ly there’s one close to you. Here in the UK, the Ram­blers Asso­ci­a­tion have walk­ing groups all through­out the UK and you can try out groups before you are required to sign up for a (low-cost) mem­ber­ship. And in the US and Cana­da, you can check out Volkss­port walk­ing clubs.

There are most like­ly walk­ing groups in your local area. Go, check 1 or more out. Then sign up and get mov­ing.

You’ll be glad you did!