By Amy Fahlman
Overworked, overstressed, not enough hours in a day, responsible for too many tasks, projects, or people? As a physiotherapist, I commonly encounter how a high demand, high distraction lifestyle manifests not only as mental anguish, but physical pain. However, recent research has shown you can actually reverse these negative effects by spending time immersed in nature. This is why I love backcountry camping – to routinely unplug from devices and reconnect with oneself. Here are the top 5 ways backcountry camping improves your health.
- It improves mental capacity. Attempting to stay focused and productive in an environment of emails, texts, push notifications, advertisements and noise pollution is mentally draining. David Strayer studies how we can reset these effects by what he refers to as ‘the 3 day effect.’ He has found people perform 50 percent better on creative problem solving activities after they have spent 3 days immersed it nature. The tranquil sights and sounds of nature don’t require the same level of mental focus as our typical day, giving our brains a chance to rest and recover. This actually restores our mental capacity so when we return to our usual tasks, we are actually more productive.
- It improves physical health and training capacity. Paddling or hiking trips require daily, multi-hour, low level aerobic exertion. More commonly referred to as zone one heart rate training, during these trips you are working your heart at a low level of your training capacity over a long period of time. Zone one training builds the base of your cardiovascular fitness, which improves your physical recovery time and teaches your body to burn fat as energy. Not to mention zone one heart rate training lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and decreases the risk of heart attacks. Though the intensity of paddling or hiking may not be up to your usual workout standards, you are allowing your body to recover while continuing to be active, so you are getting health and fitness benefits at the same time as you rest from exertion.
- Less is more. It’s hard not to get caught up in our consumer driven society. Keeping up with the proverbial Jones’ can leave us unfulfilled and constantly consuming more. However, one gruelling long portage through a boggy swamp is enough to reconsider the extra amenities. Pack simple and light. You don’t need much to meet your needs in the backcountry.
- The appreciation for an abundant fresh water supply. Living in Canada, I have grown accustomed to fresh drinkable water flowing endlessly from the tap. Though when backcountry canoeing, water is readily available in the lake and river systems, it is not so easily consumed. Here you must consider how to safely collect and purify drinking water. It’s a small extra step, but it brings the ease of first world water consumption to the front of our consciousness. We are extraordinarily lucky to have an abundance of fresh water in Canada, a privilege billions around the world will never experience. This serves as a reminder not only to be grateful for the world’s fresh water sources, but also to be conscious of consumption and preservation for future generations.
- Let go of what you can’t control. You can’t control the weather, neither literally nor figuratively. Sometimes the conditions won’t be all that pleasant, and you will have to push forward and tolerate the discomfort if you want to make your destination. Likewise, sometimes it’s going to storm heavily and you’ll need to stop moving. These things happen. Yes it will slow your progress, but in the end that’s ok. Eat, nap, meditate, rest, refuel, refocus, and then push on. Certain aspects of life are simply out of your control. It’s not good luck or bad luck, it just happens. My advice – avoid checking the weather forecast. If you approach each day in the backcountry without expectations, you will always be able to find gratitude in what you are given.
If you have never experienced backcountry camping, but are at all conscious about your health and fitness, I would certainly recommend you give it a try. You may be impressed by the wellness benefits you gain while exploring the world’s natural beauty.