Enjoying the outdoors reduces stress, increases self-esteem and boosts creativity.
Over the course of my career as a kayak guide and instructor, I have taken tens of thousands of people out on the water. Some are outdoor enthusiasts comfortable with the environment. Others are enjoying an outdoor sport for the first time.
I have observed the immense positive effects of simply being outdoors. Kayaking has the added benefit of exercise, which is great for your body. However, the simple act of getting outside improves your mood and psychological health.
Stress is arguably the greatest threat to our mental health as humans.
It is shown to weaken the immune system and cause high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, anxiety and even heart attack. Time and again, research shows that outdoor activity lowers the heart rate and reduces stress. While the exact mechanics of how this occurs is not well known, the act of seeing wide open spaces tends to make us feel small, and our problems even smaller!
In my career, I have often encountered stressed-out families on vacation, trying to make it work with the competing demands of the different members. After just a few minutes on the water, their shoulders relax, they breathe more deeply and slowly, they start smiling and having fun together again.
There are a number of programs that use outdoor experiences as a form of therapy for children from complicated and painful backgrounds. Studies confirm the healing effects of outdoor recreation. Research shows that such experiences increase one’s overall self-concept, feelings of competency, self-esteem, self-image and independence.
I have had the privilege of conducting programs for the local Kids in Kayaks program.
I’ve seen firsthand the transformational effect that having fun outside can have on children. These middle schoolers are apprehensive at first, trying to act cool and gossip in their cliques. Once in kayaks, they see their own ability move the vessel around independently. They steer and power it to where they want to go. It gives them a boost, and suddenly they are engaged in their surroundings and interested in talking to one another, their teachers and me about the experience.
Another way that the outdoors has a positive effect on the mind is through the stimulation of creativity.
From the paintings of animals and trees in the caves of Lascaux, France, to the swirling wheat fields of Van Gogh, all of the greatest artists in history have been inspired by nature. When I’m not a kayak instructor, I’m an artist. In my personal experience, there is no better way to muster creative energy than by observing and experiencing the variations of color, texture and movement in the natural world.
So this spring enjoy some time outside. Your mind will thank you!
By Jessie Renew
To book a kayak outing with Outside Hilton Head, call 843-686-6996. www.outsidehiltonhead.com.