Outdoor Recreation: Awe inspiring – and good for you!

7 07 2013

ImageHas the view from a mountaintop left you breathless? Have you felt the thrill of a run down a black diamond trail? Or been warmed all over at the sight of a doe and fawn silently crossing a meadow? You may know these benefits of outdoor recreation, but you may not know that your outdoor activities were also reducing your stress, building your bones, combatting obesity, and lowering your risk of heart disease. If your kids and spouse were along, sharing the activity with them was also strengthening your family.  And, oh, by the way, you were probably contributing to society, too.

This month, Eugene Recreation is celebrating and sharing many surprising benefits of recreation. The benefits of outdoor recreation are so remarkable, however, they deserve special recognition.

Outdoor Rec is particularly beneficial

According to Geoffrey Godbey, the author of several studies about recreation, the benefits of outdoor recreation go beyond better health; they “touch on all the aspects of well-being, including physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social health.” He adds, “Just being outdoors…has been shown to confer health benefits….”4 such as reducing stress.

The American Institute of Stress estimates 43 percent of U.S. adults experience adverse health conditions due to acute or chronic stress. People with high stress levels are more at risk for the common cold, heart attack, and cancer. Stress has also been linked to obesity, high systolic blood pressure and elevated heart rates.4

However, 100 studies of recreation experiences in wilderness and urban nature areas found “reductions in stress” was a frequent outcome.

Fights the obesity “epidemic”

In addition to stress, outdoor recreation fends off obesity, which has been linked heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses by offering “inherently pleasurable activities (that) have the greatest potential to increase human movement in daily life.”4 In other words, the pleasure people get from outdoor recreation makes them willing to be active and that improves their health. One such activity is walking.

“Just a half an hour of brisk walking each day is associated with a 30-40 percent lower risk of heart disease in women.”5  The 20-year nurses study showed walking provides the following benefits for older adults: manages weight, controls blood pressure, decreases risk of heart attack, boosts “good” cholesterol, lowers risk of stroke, reduces risk of breast cancer and Type 2 diabetes, lengthens lifespan, protects against bone fracture, prevents depression, colon cancer, osteoporosis and impotence, lowers stress levels, improves sleep, relieves arthritis and back pain, strengthens muscles and bones and elevates overall mood and sense of well-being.5

Children benefit in still more ways

“Children who spend time outdoors are healthier, overall, than their indoor counterparts.”4 A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School found children spend more than “75.5 percent of their day inactive, watching television, sitting at a computer, and doing homework.”1 And, the authors said, “The more time children and adolescents spend being sedentary, the less likely they will spend any time being moderately active at all. The more time children spend being active, the higher their self-efficacy and self-esteem.”1 Furthermore, Researchers have found that “recreation is fundamental for children’s physical, mental, social and emotional development.”1   Another benefit of outdoor recreation is even more remarkable.

While you’re camping, hiking or just enjoying a natural setting with your spouse and children, research has found that you’re also strengthening your family ties. “Outdoor recreation programs contain inherent challenges and offer opportunities for overwhelming mastery experiences that produce feelings of efficacy and have positive effects on family functioning.”8

And, “[f]amilies who recreate together tend to be more cohesive, and have a greater chance of staying together…By participating in activities together, family members elicit feelings of trust, harmony, teamwork and goodwill.”1

Inactivity in children can result in “obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”4 Multiple studies (and no doubt your own observations) found children are most likely to be active when they are outdoors and, conversely they are more likely to be sedentary when indoors.

It takes only a little

“Researchers have discovered that even a little time outdoors can reduce the symptoms of ADHD for the 4.4 million youth ages 4-17 that have been professionally diagnosed with behavioral problem …Some children were able to cut their dosage of medication in  half just by spending some time outside.”1

Another phenomenon that has broad implications for youth wellness has been called “nature deficit disorder.”1 Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods-Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, coined the phrase to describe the consequences when children do not spend time outdoors; these include “diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”4

Everyone benefits

Finally, outdoor recreation benefits society by promoting stewardship. “People who enjoy outdoor recreation become more familiar with natural resources and the environment. This increased knowledge helps them understand how their personal actions can affect the environment.”1

The next time you stop to admire the view while on a hike, paddle a canoe out on a lake, or just take a brisk walk, congratulate yourself for your active and more healthful lifestyle.

More information

Eugene Recreation’s Outdoor Program at the River House offers outdoor activities for youth and families year-around such as hiking, tree and rock climbing, kayaking, rafting, canoeing, sailing, snow shoeing, challenge course, skiing, skateboarding, surfing, and more.  The Full Moon Rising program works collaboratively with local school districts to get children outdoors. The program’s curriculum focuses on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics used in outdoor activities.

For many opportunities this summer to “get out there” check out the “Outdoor” section of the Recreation Guide at www.eugene-or.gov/recguide

Tell us why you love recreation

We’d like to know why you love recreation. How does it benefit you? Post your reason as a comment to this blog and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a $50 Recreation gift card. Details and citations at www.eugene-or.gov/celebraterec.

Recreation: building bodies and brains while having fun playing games


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