You don’t have to skydive naked or ski Everest to get a thrill from adventure. It turns out that just climbing trees, jumping over bushes and leaping logs can make you mentally heathier, happier and more resilient.
A Swiss meta-study just published in the Sports Medicine Journal shows that adventurous physical activity is not only good for your body, but can power up your mind, increasing confidence and happiness.
This growing body of literature shows that adventure improves physical and psychological well-being and helps transform lives. It can also put a smile on your face and positive thoughts in your head as well as helping you to achieve goals, get more friends, overcome boredom and fear and feel exhilaration.
This comes as no surprise to Di Westaway, Adventure Health Expert and CEO at Wild Women On Top, an organisation committed to empowering women with outdoor adventures. Di says that she sees women experiencing the health benefits of adventure every day in her work.
“I was a frazzled, fed-up mum fighting forty when one day a friend’s personal trainer invited me to climb a massive mountain in the Andes. It was on that climb I experienced the extraordinary psychological benefits of adventure. No longer was I the downtrodden mum putting her needs last while nurturing a young family. In spite of not getting top of the mountain, I felt like a winner. I had smashed my own perceived limitations. What that does to your feeling of self is just incredible. In the ten years since starting Wild Women On Top I’ve seen thousands of other women experience that same thrill of adventure by doing a thirty-kilometer hike. They overcome their own emotional and physical barriers to get happier and healthier.”
Research on adventure education and wilderness therapy programs further underscores these findings. Meta-analyses of hundreds of adventure education studies demonstrate that adventure programs facilitate positive health and well-being outcomes.
“Unfortunately most people think of adventure as a risky or dangerous activity and dismiss it as something for radical thrill seekers. But adventurous physical activities like hiking or kayaking are really good for us. You don’t have to risk your life to experience a whole host of physical and mental benefits,” says Westaway. “We help tens of thousands of people get into adventure every year. And over 70 percent of them say they feel awesome. This is not an accident. It’s because adventure connects to our primal DNA and brings a whole host of happy hormones bubbling to the surface. That’s why it’s great for anybody suffering from stress or anxiety as well.”
Adventurous physical activities may promote psychological health and well-being by:
- Improving positivity, self-efficacy and resilience
- Providing opportunities to overcome challenges
- Enhancing feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness
- Facilitating feelings of natural connection
- Increasing physical activity levels
- Providing opportunities intense emotions.
The research concluded that adventurous physical activities may be viable wellness promotion tools that should be included in large scale preventative health strategies.
Dr Robert Grenfell, Health Director from the CSIRO agrees. “With one in five of us set to suffer from a mental health issue at some stage of our lives, there is some urgency to look at promoting mental wellbeing. An easy and often free way to bolster your reserve against the nerves or the blues is a good dose of nature tonic. Research continues to demonstrate the preventive and therapeutic effects of a dose of natural adventure in your life. This could be as simple as a walk in the local park, or better still a hike in the hills. Modern life has created a disconnect between a healthy mindset and what it means to be a resident on this wonderful planet,” says Grenfell.
For those who want to get some of this goodness without risking their lives, Westaway recommends starting with a micro-adventure like a walk along coastal rocks, a trekking to your local park to climb a tree, or leap over the fence or roll down a hill.
Then on the weekend you might try a mini adventure like a mountain bike ride, or a kayaking day or even a hike to a lookout. You get psychological benefits just from planning an adventure because this triggers your dopamine response. It’s in our genes to be seekers and to feel better when we get into nature because we’re all born to be explorers.
Westaway says if you have trouble getting motivate to exercise or make time for yourself, but you don’t like competitive physical activity, the easiest way to get involved is to sign up for an adventurous event, like Sydney Coastrek, which motivates you to get off the couch and into nature.
Adventure is no longer only for hard core extremists. Women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are trekking across countries and embracing adventures like abseiling, canyoning, kayaking, trekking and mountain biking. Just do it. You’ll love it.