Recovering from addiction is not just a matter of abstinence. It requires a holistic approach that includes therapy, medical care, building social connection, and making healthy lifestyle changes. Being active outdoors is one of the best things you can do for a healthier lifestyle. It combines several elements for a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Outdoor activity can be nearly anything you do outside. That can include a walk, a picnic, a hike, camping, rock climbing, kayaking, skiing, mountain climbing, or anything else you can think of. There is some outdoor activity you can participate in no matter your level of expertise, fitness, or risk tolerance. Most people will be able to incorporate outdoor activity into their daily lives even if it’s only a walk in the park. Here are just some of the ways outdoor activity can improve your recovery and make you happier in general.
Being in nature reduces stress and depression
Many studies have shown that just being in a natural environment lowers stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. One study from Stanford divided people into two groups and had one take a walk in the city, and another take a walk in a natural setting. Despite the same exercise time, the group that walked in a natural setting showed decreased activity in a part of the brain associated with depression. Another study, also from Stanford, found that spending time in nature reduces anxiety, rumination, and negative moods.
Exercise reduces stress.
Exercise has many healthy effects on your body and mind. Like being in nature, exercise reduces cortisol levels and releases endorphins. Exercise also lowers resting heart rate and blood pressure, so even when you’re not exercising, you feel less stressed. Exercise also boosts levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, making you feel happier. In fact, studies have shown that exercise can increase serotonin levels as much as antidepressant SSRIs.
Getting outside is healthy.
Walking in the woods helps keep you healthy in several ways. The first is that you breathe cleaner air. We hear a lot about outdoor air pollution but in fact, inside air is much more polluted, containing at least two to five times the contaminants as outside air. Also, being outside exposes you to sunlight, which boosts levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential to a healthy immune system and strong bones. Low vitamin D has been linked to depression, cancer, alzheimer’s, autoimmune disorders, and heart disease. Breathing the same air as plants can make you healthier too. Many plants release compounds called phytoncides into the air. These compounds help protect the plants from bacteria and fungi. When we breathe in phytoncides, our bodies release higher levels of white blood cells called natural killer, or NK, cells. NK cells attack cells in the body that are infected with viruses and cancer. A three-day camping trip can raise levels of NK cells for a month.
Exercise improves your thinking.
Exercise improves your thinking in several ways. The reduction of stress alone is enough to help you focus and think more creatively, but exercise has other benefits as well. It has been shown to improve executive function, which includes things like emotional regulation, focus, working memory, planning, and self-control. Exercise also increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps grow neurons. The increase in BDNF is concentrated in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that helps turn short-term memories into long-term memories. That means regular exercise can help you learn and remember more quickly.
Learning new things stimulates your brain.
One of the funnest parts of spending time outside is learning new skills. This learning could be as simple as seeing where a trail leads, or something more complicated like learning to rappel. Novelty stimulates the brain and wakes up parts of the brain that might not get enough use. The effect of learning new skills is compounded in natural environments because there is so much to see and experience. Being in nature keeps you alert but relaxed, which is the perfect state of mind for learning new things.
Being outdoors with friends builds social connection.
Much of our social connection these days is mediated. Either we communicate on our phones with people somewhere else, or we spend time in the same place with our friends but everyone is looking at her phone instead of talking with the people in the room. Technology is great for connecting people in ways that were never possible before, but it’s also important to spend quality time with friends in person. Getting outside, going for a hike, having a picnic, camping, and doing other activities in nature is a perfect opportunity to really connect with others. There are no TVs or phones to distract you from conversation. Even if you don’t feel like talking, that’s fine. You can quietly share an experience. Outdoor activities can also be a great way to build trust. When you’re out in nature with a group, you have to rely on each other more than you would in regular life. That’s an excellent way to build trust and cooperation. Depending on how adventurous you want to be, you might have to trust someone with your life, or vice versa. Even in a relatively low risk setting, you may have to help each other out and support each other when trying new things.
Learning new skills builds confidence.
We often underestimate what we are capable of. We set limits for ourselves and never really test them. Getting outside and trying something new is a great way to push those new limits and build confidence. Many outdoor activities require resourcefulness and self-reliance. Some are dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing or you’re not careful. Mastering new skills that allow you to push your boundaries can change how you think about yourself. Maybe you never imagined you would ever go whitewater rafting because it seemed so scary, but then you tried it and had a great time. You might start to wonder what else you can do that you never thought of.
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, we can help. Recovery Ways is a leading addiction treatment provider with an excellent recovery rate. We incorporate recreation therapy into our treatment programs, giving patients a chance to reap the benefits of outdoor activity. Our expert staff includes masters and PhD level therapists and board certified addiction psychiatrists. Our comfortable facilities will help to make your treatment as enjoyable as possible and our therapists use proven techniques like sensory integration and recreation therapy to help to engage the world without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. Call us today at 1-888-986-7848 or email us through our contact page to learn more.