Spending time in the great outdoors is a fantastic way to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you every day, and grab some much-needed rest and relaxation. But a growing amount of scientific research shows there are some remarkable health benefits of camping.
Here are a few key reasons why you should think about getting outside with the family for a few days.
You Can Remove Unnatural Light Sources
Your everyday environment is filled with unnatural light. Cell phones, computer screens, light bulbs … they can all have an effect on the body’s circadian rhythm. This is the internal clock that tells us when to wake up and when to get to sleep.
So, researchers have curiously looked at how a camping trip might affect these circadian rhythms.
In one particular study, participants camped for a week during summer, getting four times the natural light during the day than they would normally experience. All sources of unnatural light, such as flashlights and lamps, were banned at night.
You Sleep Better
Researchers found that the participants started to feel sleepy two hours earlier than normal. When the participants returned from their trip, their internal clocks continued to be more in sync with the “biological day,” meaning they began to get drowsy as night began to descend.1
Researchers tracked the participants’ circadian rhythms, sleep patterns, and melatonin levels in order to get an idea of how their internal clocks were working. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates both sleep and wakefulness.
Before the participants left for their camping trips their circadian rhythms weren’t quite in sync with their sleep patterns. And the campers’ melatonin levels weren’t falling quickly enough when they woke each morning – in fact, they weren’t falling until they’d been awake for about two hours.
If your melatonin levels don’t fall when you wake up, you’ll continue to feel drowsy.2
But, after their camping trip, researchers found that their melatonin levels began to rise an average of 1.4 hours earlier than they had previously.
A second camping group was also studied as part of the research project and its results were even more dramatic. In this study, participants also went camping for a week – but in winter. They were able to get 13 times the natural light during the day than they would normally experience during winter!
After they returned, they had their melatonin levels checked each hour for a 24-hour period. Their levels rose an average of 2.6 hours earlier than before they left.
Researchers believe that (without the interference of unnatural light) the participants “biological night” had naturally lengthened to align with the colder season – which has already been seen in animals, but never studied in humans.3
More Health Benefits of Camping
In addition to helping to get our circadian rhythms back to where they need to be, spending time in the great outdoors could actually help lower your blood pressure. When you’re outside in the sun, your skin absorbs a great deal of vitamin D through sunlight. There is some evidence to suggest that a lack of vitamin D could increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which, in turn, could lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Camping Safety Tips
If you’re planning on getting some healthy time outdoors, you obviously want to be as safe as possible.
Here are a few tips that’ll help make sure your outdoor experience is something you’ll not only benefit from health-wise, but one you’ll return from unscathed.
1. Think safety when participating in any physical activity
While there are some amazing health benefits of camping, it also comes with significant dangers. If you, or someone in your family, suffers an injury, you probably won’t have a 24-hour emergency room close by.
- Bring protective gear when biking or hiking, and make sure you have life jackets when swimming.
- Carry plenty of water.
- Don’t go swimming or hiking alone
- Be aware of not only your surroundings, but also your limits.
2. Prepare your food and water carefully
Make sure all of the food you bring is packed safely in a bag or container that is tightly secured and waterproof. Keep all food in an insulated cooler. If you plan on cooking outside and you’re bringing raw meats, keep them far away from the pre-cooked food.
- Make sure you cook meat to the proper temperature. Ground beef, for example, should be cooked to at least 160 degrees.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any sort of raw meat – bring a hand sanitizer to be on the safe side.
3. Protect yourself from insect bites
Nothing will ruin a camping trip faster than encountering a tick or some other bug that leads to a nasty – possibly even dangerous – bite.
Bring plenty of insect repellant and wear long sleeves and long pants if possible. The lighter the clothing the easier it is to spot a tick.
4. Use sunscreen
While sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, too much can sun exposure can, of course, cause problems. Harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can penetrate the skin even on cloudy days, so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen on hand, as well as hats and sunglasses.
Here’s To The Great Outdoors
By taking just a few simple precautions, you can have a healthy, exciting camping trip and still be in great shape when you get back home. It may still be winter, but it’s never too early to start planning your ideal camping trip!