Outdoor sports, in all of their variety, have one thing in common - The effect of engaging in them on a regular basis has a huge positive impact on your life. Whether you start hiking regularly, rock climbing, mountain biking, canyoning, or whatever other outdoor sport - and where regularly can be as little as once a month or as often as a couple of times a week - the numerous benefits of doing anything in outdoor sports become obvious to participants very quickly.
For those who haven’t ever regularly participated in any outdoor sports though, it is worth looking at some of the best reasons for doing so. So here I have attempted to put together 10 specific benefits from engaging in outdoor sports - there are no doubt more, and some of them are actually several reasons wrapped up into one point, but the overall point remains the same >> Enjoy outdoor sports : Improve your life.
10. Improve Your Fitness/Physique
Outdoor sports, all of them, are just unbelievably good for your fitness and overall physique. Whether you are walking up and down hills, climbing vertical rock faces, or paddling downstream, you are giving your body the best sort of all round natural work out - a workout which works your entire body in natural proportions. No muscle groups to worry about, no repetitious straining exercises, no unbalanced exercises - outdoor sports involve natural motions, natural exertions, and usually involve whole body exercise. Gyms use 10 different machines (or more) to achieve the same result as doing a single canyon - and even then you have to be directed by a professional to know how to use those 10 different machines to get a balanced workout.
Our bodies evolved in this outdoors landscape - we are built to walk, run, jump and explore wilderness areas - what better way to improve our natural body capabilities but to use them for what they were designed to do? What better way to make our bodies feel useful again, but to apply them to the situation they were designed for?
Get out into the outdoors every weekend for a few months, and the improvement in your fitness will blow you away. Not only will you have better endurance, better fitness, and increasing strength, but you will find other improvements not usually experienced by gym junkies; things like better balance and flexibility - Even the side effects are positive!
9. A Break From It All…
Outdoor Sports provide a very healthy ‘break from it all’ for when life just gets to be too much. Whether you need to have a break from your stressful job, or you simply need some time away from your daily life, losing yourself (figuratively) in the wilderness or in a challenging sport is a great way of providing some temporary stress-relief.
Take up a sport like Rock Climbing, and it doesn’t matter how much pressure you are under at work, get yourself 20m up a vertical cliff, and suddenly all of your daily worries fall away from you as you focus your whole mind and body on the single problem right in front of you. If that idea itself is too stressful for you, then try heading out into the bush for a bushwalk - the beauty around you, the views, the isolation from the real world all provide a way out of your normal thought processes, habits and stresses alike. Moments of serenity and mental clarity are often found on mountain tops…
8. Cheap Entertainment
At it’s cheapest, outdoor sports is nothing more than a water bottle, the clothes on your back, and some shoes… and with just those few items you can be entertained for hours. For most other outdoor sports there is some technical equipment which is required - but once that gear is purchased, borrowed, rented, or received as a gift, the sport becomes almost free, costing nothing more than the transport and food bills while doing it - and it isn’t like you don’t have to pay for that in your daily life anyway! Cheaper than the movies, cheaper than a night out drinking or clubbing, and far more entertaining than either.
Even better than the single day trips, outdoor sports can provide you with cheap holidays. Why spend thousands of dollars to travel overseas for a holiday, when chances are you haven’t even explored some of the most beautiful parts of Australia? I don’t mean visiting the well known tourist hot spots - I mean going to the out of the way places, the not so well known places, the places which are just as - or more - spectacular than any of the easily accessed tourist destinations. Why spend thousands of dollars flying and staying in hotels in order to have a break, when you can have a relaxing, enjoyable, entertaining break in your own backyard.
It is almost perverse that some of the most active people in the Australian outdoors are foreign exchange students - why don’t more Australians take advantage of the great country we have? Why go to so much trouble to travel the world, only to see things which you have completely ignored at home? Entertainment, adventure, relaxation, exploration…all without the price tag. Cheap Entertainment - great value entertainment.
7. Solitude AND Social Interaction
These two opposing options are encountered in every outdoor trip. For most outdoor sports you need at least one other person with you, often a group for safety - so from that aspect you get the ability to socialise. By involving yourself in an outdoor sport community you will meet great people who are usually the most easygoing happy go lucky you people you will ever meet (once you finish reading this list you will understand why) and you will usually have heaps of time to get to know them while walking, paddling, climbing etc.
Yet at the same time it is easy to find the most peaceful solitude while outdoors. If you feel like some time alone it is really easy to just walk ahead of the pack a few hundred meters (or behind). Many people also enjoy bushwalking alone, so if you really need some time alone, then getting out onto a walking track is a great way to achieve that - if you go to the right areas, you could spend days walking and not see another person.
So whether you want to meet new people or escape from people altogether - outdoor sports provides the means.
I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that our lifestyle here in Australia is designed to make us lose perspective. It is designed to make us think designer clothes and shoes matter. It is designed to make us think that our vote on Big Brother means something. It is designed to make us worry about what Britney Spears did last week. It is designed to make us stress over what is going to happen next in Neighbours - who’s going to die? Who’s going to get married? It is designed to make us buy the junk food that has the better advertising campaign over the food which is better for us and better tasting… And we all get lost in this world - get caught up in its dramas, in its advertising, in its pointless distractions because it surrounds us all the time.
The only way out of it is to simply extract yourself from it - but like most people I actually like the world I live in enough that I don’t want to become a hermit and live in the middle of nowhere with no electricity and no money. That being said, I do like to remember occasionally that money, electronic gadgets, and television dramas are not what life is all about. Putting yourself into the wilderness for a period of time can really help you realise how irrelevant so many of your stresses at home are, and how much more important certain things are - like bringing enough food for the trip!
Better still, it helps you put your daily comforts into perspective. Nothing reminds you how comfortable our beds are than lying on pointy rocks every night for a week. Nothing reminds you how easy microwaves are to use, or stoves for that matter when you have to cook everything over an open flame with limited tools. Running water earns the respect it truly deserves when you are out bush.
Better perspective again is gained with things don’t go as planned. Never to wish ill fortune on anyone, but if you do enough outdoor sports you will encounter problems one time or another eventually. Hopefully nothing too serious, but missing a path can make a 3 hour walk turn into a 6 hour walk. Twisting an ankle is easy to do and if done in bad circumstances can leave you stranded in awkward positions. No one goes into outdoor sports planning to encounter these sorts of hardhsips, but if - when - they happen, I guarantee your perspectives on life will change as you fight to correct the situation.
I think these changes in perspective can really make a positive difference in your daily life when you return to ‘the matrix’.
5. Lose Weight
Backed by a multi-bazillion dollar industry I figure weight loss is a reasonably important thing to many people. I don’t find many “Lose weight by doing outdoor sports” ads around the place - I wonder if that is simply because no one knows how to make money from it? (See reason The fact is that if you do outdoor sports regularly - you will lose weight. End of story. No fad, no gimmick, no sales pitch, no special meetings - just find a sport you enjoy and do it regularly. Once a week is enough - go find a different walking track every week - Explore Australia one four hour walking track at a time! You will lose weight.
Want to lose weight fast? Get a hiking pack, grab a tent, sleeping bag, bedroll, water purifier, portable stove and whatever food you can carry - then go for a week long hike. When you are walking all day everyday and can only eat the food you can carry on your back - I guarantee weight loss will result. Plus, for most people the swap from soft drinks, beer, and all of the other mass marketed drinks to nothing but water for a week is probably the healthiest thing you can do for yourself.
I should probably mention that I am not a dietician, doctor, or anything like that, so I have no statistically backed medical proof of this claim, but how many overweight hikers have you ever seen? Get out into the outdoors and one of the first things you will notice is that everyone who does this stuff regularly is a very healthy weight - and I guarantee it isn’t because they pay Jenny Craig to help them keep it.
4. Improve Self Esteem
The ways in which outdoor sports improve the self esteem of those doing them is innumerable. If you lose weight while doing it, won’t that improve your self esteem? If you improve your fitness, your physique, your balance and coordination, won’t that improve your self esteem? If you feel a zen-like sense of perspective about the world, a sort of ‘enlightenment’, won’t that improve your self esteem?
Again, you don’t take up outdoor sports with the goal of ‘Improving my self esteem’…but it is just what happens when you do it. Sometimes it comes from something as simple as bragging rights - you spend the weekend rock climbing and feel like a colossus when you return to work on Monday and tell everyone that you climbed up several 20m high vertical cliffs on the weekend…I wonder what they did?
It doesn’t even have to be bragging to be effective, sometimes just the excitement of having done something interesting. Having spent your weekend walking through the bush to find this incredible waterfall, pristine clear water, no people around for miles…just you and the nature around you…that’s what you did with your time. Something productive. Something profound. Something which was healthy, challenging, and worth it. Better than wasting your life away in front of the television.
3. Challenge Yourself
Directly following on from the previous point, the ability to challenge yourself is something which I personally believe is largely lacking in our society. It is hard to feel good about yourself when everything you do is designed for the lowest common denominator - all challenge has been removed from our life for fear of offending someone or causing a lawsuit.
Outdoor sports inherently involve a degree of challenge in them. At the most basic level the challenge is as simple as walking to the top of the hill (more challenging than you would think on some hills!), on a more difficult level it may be learning to keep your kayak upright on rapids, or staying on your mountain bike on a downhill course. At the most extreme, it is surviving a challenging environment or situation. No matter what level you may find yourself at you can do something which will challenge your preconceived notions of what you can achieve. Our super-comfortable world has all of us drastically under-rating our abilities - constantly keeping us in a state of not trying to hard, or pushing ourselves. Push past a boundary once in a while and find out what you are actually capable of. It will blow you away.
2. The Beauty of it All…
If you think this, or this, or this, or this or any of these are incredible to look at…you should try being there yourself. There are some scenes, some places, some tricks of light which simply cannot be caught on film. Nor can the feeling of being in a place of such beauty be captured on film. These photos should act as inspiration for you to go out there yourself - see it for yourself, feel it for yourself. Envelop yourself in the beauty of the outdoors because the narrow perspective of a single scene provided by a camera never does justice to the reality of the experience.
Go and experience it.
1. It Is Good For Your Soul
And finally, the number one reason to get involved in Outdoor sports is actually the culmination of all of the other reasons. This is not a cop out, this is about what happens when numerous individual benefits interact with each other to create a sum greater than their individual parts. Sure, improving your fitness is good, sure adding perspective to your life is good, and allowing yourself the occasional stress free, inexpensive break from life helps out, plus challenging yourself and seeing an improvement in your self esteem is a great consequence to have from doing outdoor sports…but what do you think would happen if you felt all of these things happening to you - in your life? You feel your body improving - you are losing weight, you are losing your breath less easily, you feel your body gaining strength, shape, form. You start to find yourself able to do things you never expected to be able to do, your self esteem improves and you find yourself generally happier with life as all of the irrelevancies fall away and you focus more on what actually matters… Your whole life improves.
You feel physically great, mentally together, and happier in all regards.
In a world where depression affects 1 in 5 people and as many as 4 out of 5 people are overweight, what better advice can someone be given but “Start bushwalking”? Start Mountain biking, start canoeing, start rock climbing, start surfing, horse riding, road cycling, snowboarding, canyoning, whitewater rafting, caving…. Find your sport - find something YOU enjoy, and do it. Its fun, its cheap, and it will improve your life in ways you can’t imagine.
If you would like to start doing more outdoor activities but are unsure where to start or what to do, then drop into our Outdoor Sports forums and ask there. You will find plenty of support, help and advice. Outdoor Sports all have an element of risk with them, so make sure you understand what you are doing before starting!
I hope to see you out on the tracks one day.