The benefits of outdoor adventure activity are broad, deep and long lasting; this is backed up by a wealth of science and lived experiences. Whether it's walking, paddling, cycling, swimming or climbing, outdoor adventures are a tried and tested way to heal, protect and develop ourselves and our environment.
1. Get motivated
First and foremost, we are talking about being active - something we all know is good for us. In fact, the UK Chief Medical Officer's Physical Activity Guidelines go as far as saying that
"if physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat.”
Of course, you can get more active anywhere - in your front room; at the gym; on the way to work, school and the shops. Almost anywhere! In fact, being a little more active in all these places adds up to being a lot more active overall.
But, people are often put off exercise for all kinds of good reasons, or struggle to keep it as part of their routine. The good news is that research shows that you increase your chances of getting and staying active when you take part in adventures outdoors; this is because you're doing something fun and exciting, at an intensity you can maintain, with other people by your side - and it's free!
2. Let nature heal you
A growing body of evidence shows that being active in nature brings a really positive extra dimension to an active lifestyle. In addition to helping motive us to be more active, there is also what is known as the ‘Nature Effect’.
Countless studies continue to show that routine exposure to sunlight and fresh air, reduced screen time, and more regular immersion in nature all have a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Science is showing that nature can help reduce blood pressure and stress, limit the effects of diabetes and dementia, and improve mood, cognitive function and brain activity - one study even shows it can make us nicer people!
The pressures of modern living make us increasingly prone to stress, anxiety and depression, and our mental health is suffering as a result - this is particualrly prevalent in our children. New research shows that increased exposure to nature offers an effective treatment for a range of mental health and behavioural issues, especially when conducted in a social setting.
In conjunction with Natural England, the Government has now introduced Green Social Prescribing to support people in engaging in nature-based interventions and activities to improve their mental health. Natural England's People & Nature Survey data recorded that in January 2022, 90 per cent of adults in England reported they view green and natural spaces as good places for mental health and wellbeing.
3. Develop your resilience
As a society, we are increasingly hiding in our 'comfort zone', and we have become too used to avoiding risk and striving for a routine that we know we can deal with. As a result, we are losing our resilience – our ability to deal with uncertainty and hardship, take risks, and to 'bounce back' from failure and disappointment. This is affecting us at work, at school and at home.
Adventure is a proven way to improve our resilience. In fact, the very definition of adventure is that it is uncertain and that it has a degree of perceived risk – it is supposed to take you out of your ‘comfort zone’. This isn’t to say that we need to be scaling mountains or steering down grade 5 rapids; we all have our own ‘stretch zone’! Ours might simply be going for a walk in an unfamiliar place, or getting on a paddle board for the first time, or riding a bike on a bumpy track. It really doesn’t matter, as long as we continue to demonstrate to ourselves that we can deal with things that are unfamiliar and take risks.
The more we stretch ourselves and take manageable risks through adventure, the more confident we become and the more resilient we are in our daily lives. Belinda Kirk from Adventure Mind refers to this as the ‘Adventure Effect’ in her book Adventure Revolution. It is an essential part of hardening ourselves against the pressures of modern life.
The well-known Outward Bound programme was started on the basis of the Adventure Effect, intended to develop resilience in young men destined for the Merchant Navy, with a view to enhancing their ability to overcome adversity. The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, Army Adventurous Training and many other programmes followed suit, and all are still thriving to this day.
Countless studies and interventions continue to show that outdoor adventure can equip us with the tools we need to be better at our jobs, better students, better parents and, ultimately, more resilient and able to cope with pressure.
4. Care for the environment
Being active outdoors is not just about us. Our environment needs us to take an active interest in it more than ever before. Dealing with global warming, the biodiversity crisis and the many other environmental issues, relies on us all learning about, caring for and, ultimately, acting on nature’s behalf. This can be difficult to do if we don’t appreciate or understand what we have – and what we might lose!
Many people's only contact with our struggling natural environment is through a screen. A recent report on our engagement with the natural environment shows that many people, especially in the younger age groups, would like to do more to protect the environment but feel they need more information or support.
There is no better way to bring the environment and nature to the forefront of our minds than by actively immersing ourselves in it – this is particularly important for our urban populations and, of course, our children. We are lucky to have amazing wild places around every corner, and adventure gives us a great excuse to get out and actively explore them, on foot, on wheels and on the water. Only by doing so will we feel connected with nature and an urge to act to protect it.
Top Tips for getting more active outdoors
In the same way you that you accept the benefits of a healthy diet, accept that to be active and adventurous outdoors offers huge benefits to us as individuals and a society.
Try and incorporate the outdoors into your daily routine, whether its taking your laptop outside for an hour a day ,or cycling to work, walking the kids to school, or going for a run instead of the gym.
Try also to stretch yourself routinely, perhaps by going for a longer walk in an unfamiliar place, or by trying something completely new like paddle boarding or climbing or wild swimming.
Stay committed to these changes by getting them into your calendar and by joining a group or inviting your family and friends to join you. It's so much easier to stick to something if you've written it down and made a social commitment.
Finally, use the Outdoor Nation Adventure Map to discover things you can do nearby and learn how to get started and stay safe by using our advice centre. Start adding your planned adventures to your Outdoor Nation bucket list; then share them with your friends and get out and do them. Happy adventuring!