Seven Sisters

The Top 10 Benefits of Spending Time in Nature

A 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!

15 thoughts on “The Top 10 Benefits of Spending Time in Nature”

  1. Bril­liant arti­cle Dave, thank you for shar­ing the ben­e­fits of wan­der­ing in nature in com­pa­ny.

    I high­ly rec­om­mend every­one walking/hiking/others; such a rush of pos­i­tive­ness and hap­pi­ness! Let’s keep it on!

    1. Loi­da, thanks so much for tak­ing the time to read this post and for the pos­i­tive feed­back. I think the more we can share and live the ben­e­fits, the more we can inspire oth­ers to get mov­ing — an absolute­ly essen­tial require­ment for all of us who spend more time work­ing our brains than our bod­ies.

  2. Brilliant……you remind­ed us of just how impor­tant the sim­ple plea­sures in life are, and how they will always have a pos­i­tive per­son­al impact on our well-being. I will be fol­low­ing “more time 4play”.

    1. Thanks Michael, you’ve remind­ed me that this like so many of life’s sim­ple plea­sures are low-cost or free, and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble to most, if not all of us.

  3. Very good and so true arti­cle Dave.… Its is right, lets ive our real life instead of spend­ing so much time front of our com­put­ers.…

    1. Too true Sol. We lose a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence a broad­er and more intense range of expe­ri­ences & emo­tions by liv­ing so much of our lives vir­tu­al­ly than by reach­ing out to those around us. Thanks so much for your com­ment.

  4. Joan Brooke Moore

    Thank you, Dave! For me, as some­one who has cho­sen delib­er­ate­ly to live in the midst of the Great Out­doors in the South­west of the Unit­ed States, this blog post is a poignant reminder of the beau­ty of those British land­scapes I once ram­bled. Your words (and pic­tures!) re-inspire my hope that I might trek that way again. I encour­age all you res­i­dents of the UK to take advan­tage of the par­tic­u­lar beau­ties of those spaces!
    In addi­tion, from your top ten ben­e­fits, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly drawn back to num­ber 5., in regard to how face-to-face inter­ac­tion, per­haps espe­cial­ly in the rur­al wilds in a recre­ation­al con­text, is so impor­tant in cre­at­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty for devel­op­ing trust between peo­ple and mutu­al con­fi­dence in each oth­er. Much of what you write speaks to how being in the Great Out­doors can pro­vide a spe­cial ben­e­fit for devel­op­ing inter­ac­tions of depth and qual­i­ty, in lis­ten­ing, to oth­ers and to one­self. Thar’s gold for the spir­it in them thar hills!

    1. Joan, thanks so much for your thought­ful com­ments. You added won­der­ful­ly to what I had hoped to artic­u­late in this arti­cle, espe­cial­ly about that most impor­tant ele­ment of human con­nec­tion. We look for­ward to wel­com­ing you back to this great land­scape in the UK before too long!!

  5. Nice blog Dave. It’s so true that every­one needs to dis­con­nect from the online and con­nect to the real world from time to time, I know I need to. And get­ting out I to the coun­try with like mind­ed folk is a great way to do it.

    1. Thanks for read­ing Adam and for your com­ment. I agree. And, as there are few­er and few­er places where we can escape the call (addic­tion?) of the online world, I believe it becomes essen­tial to remove our­selves on a reg­u­lar basis from that world. And what bet­ter place for doing that than out in the great wide open.

  6. It real­ly sums it up. I have been spread­ing ‘the word’ about hik­ing since I joined var­i­ous groups as it made such a pos­i­tive impact on my life. The best part is mak­ing new friends from all walks of life and get­ting fit 🙂

  7. Great post Dave — I agree with all your points and want to throw one of my own into the mix — a bit sim­i­lar to 1 or 2 — is gain­ing a new per­spec­tive on things — whether it is talk­ing about your goals or dreams (hey, these are long walks!) or just com­mis­er­at­ing about the chal­lenges of immi­gra­tion for instance. Of course there is noth­ing like a long scenic walk to stoke the appetite and also improve sleep, I find. But then I was­n’t in a room full of snor­ing men…! 🙂

    1. Ah, yes the snor­ing men!! Great addi­tion to the list Danielle, thanks. You’re absolute­ly right. In my expe­ri­ence, even a change in envi­ron­ment in and of itself can often be enough to pro­vide the nec­es­sary shift in per­spec­tive. Add in the open space, the reduc­tion in intru­sions and (when desired) the per­spec­tive of your fel­low trav­ellers and you increase the like­li­hood that you can re-engage with your chal­lenges with some addi­tion­al insight.

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