By Michelle Peterson
People have long touted the benefits of the great outdoors. From a simple walk on a sunny day to camping in the wild, exposure to nature improves our general well-being. This natural health boost comes in the form of exercise, breathing fresh air, and the emotionally calming effects of connecting to the wild. For those in recovery from addiction, nature exposure can bolster whole-body health, which helps them stay on track.
Live a more active lifestyle.
The conveniences of modern-day life are often detrimental to health. Long ago, lounging on furniture indoors for extended periods of time was unheard of for healthy individuals. Getting through your day required work such as walking to get to your destination, chopping firewood for heat, and hunting or gathering your food. In the past, we spent more time outside due to necessity. And although modern medicine has extended lifespans by treating many of the diseases that caused death in the past, current medical problems such as obesity and high blood pressure didn’t exist when humans lived more active lifestyles out of necessity.
Indoors, we can be motionless. A world of information and entertainment is a remote click or smartphone swipe away, and food is prepared and wrapped in our cabinets or refrigerators, ready for us to eat even when we are not hungry. Outside, we have to move from point A to point B. We are less likely to grab a snack out of the kitchen. What’s more, we are showered with sunshine, which elevates levels of serotonin, which is sometimes called the “happy brain chemical” since it regulates mood, which is helpful during addiction recovery.
Much of the benefit of getting outdoors comes from increased activity. Obesity rates are lower in those who spend time in the outdoors, simply because interacting with nature is not a sedentary activity. Exercise, in turn, makes us feel good as well since it can release other happy brain chemicals such as dopamine. But beyond the feel-good effects of getting outdoors and moving, studies suggest that just being sedentary in nature also is good for us. In one study, a 9 percent reduction of hypertension -- the clinical term for high blood pressure -- was noted in people who just spend 30 minutes a week outside, doing little more than basking in nature. Saving money may also offer you some peace of mind. Passport America can save you 50% off of campsites across the USA.
In addition, going outside can stave off loneliness in some people while developing a sense of one’s place in their environment. Some people have unhealthy egos, believing the world revolves around them. This attitude can halt certain efforts, such as treating mental health concerns or addiction. Nature can balance ego and remind people, including those in recovery, that the world is much bigger than themselves, and that community is important for all.
Outdoor Activities Also Help You Connect with Your Pet
While outdoor activities on their own can be gateways to social activity, spending time with one’s dog outside helps facilitate healthy interactions with others and fosters a close, rewarding relationship with your pet. Many dog breeds love running and hiking and can be your greatest training partner. Even a quick trip to the local dog park or a simple walk benefits both you and your dog physically, mentally, and socially. Additionally, some addiction programs include therapy dogs to aid in treatment.
Using the Outdoors in Addiction Recovery
All of the benefits of getting out into nature help those going through addiction recovery to persevere. Some people find success as “natural recoverers” -- those who manage their addiction on their own -- through replacing their addictive behaviors with hobbies and exercise. Outdoor appreciation can be both a hobby and exercise, especially with hiking and dog walking. Nature, however, is especially effective when added to traditional evidence-based recovery therapies such as group and individual counseling and 12-step program participation.
Nature is the ultimate balancing tool. It returns us to a less hectic state, one where we are encouraged to use our bodies, interact with others, and enjoy our lives without needing substances.