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Camping Is Good for Your Brain


FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2016 photo, Outdoor School students walk through the dense forest on their way to a lesson at Camp Howard in Mount Hood National Forest near Corbett, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Camping Is Good for Your Brain
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

The 19th-century American writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau knew the importance of nature. Thoreau filled his books and notes with observations about human life and its basic need for nature. Those writings have probably never been more important than they are today.

On average, Americans spend about 10 hours a day in front of a computer or other electronic device and less than 30 minutes a day outdoors.

That is a claim made by David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah. In his 2017 TEDTalk, Strayer explained that all this time spent with technology is making our brains tired.

Using an electronic device – answering emails, listening to the news, looking at Facebook -- puts a lot of pressure on the prefrontal cortex, the front of the brain. This area, Strayer explains, is important for critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making.

So, it is important to give the brain a rest. And being in nature, Strayer claims, helps refresh a brain that is tired from too much technology.

More than 15,000 campers from around the world attended an international camping festival in Jiangxi province, China, September 2013.
More than 15,000 campers from around the world attended an international camping festival in Jiangxi province, China, September 2013.

​That is when time in the great outdoors and a camping trip can help. Friends and family take time off and escape to nature for several days. They take walks, climb, explore, swim, sleep, eat and play. Camping may be just what a tech-tired brain needs.

Take Carl, for example. He lives in West Virginia and enjoys camping. He says that being outdoors makes him feel at ease. It also prepares him for the work he must do.

"Camping give us a chance to get in touch with nature and it's a little less busy than our regular day-to-day life. And it's very relaxing. So, when you return to work on Monday generally you're in a better state of mind. I really like the way I feel on Monday. I'm refreshed for work."

Nature gives us unique beauty. 'The Wave' rock formation is in a protected area of Arizona. (2017 File Photo)
Nature gives us unique beauty. 'The Wave' rock formation is in a protected area of Arizona. (2017 File Photo)

Kate Somers also lives in West Virginia. She says she enjoys camping with her husband and two children. She calls it a “regenerative” experience, meaning it gives her new life and energy.

"I find that it just brings me a measure of peace that comes with the quiet and often the solitude. I find it pretty regenerative and something that I like to do with some regularity so that I can keep tapping into that.”

Scientists may agree.

At the University of Utah, David Strayer has studied both short-term and long-term exposure to nature. He found that spending short amounts of time in nature without technology does calm the brain and helps it to remember better. However, he found, it is the long-term contact with nature that does the most good.

He and his research team found that spending three days in nature without any technology is enough time for the brain to fully relax and reset itself. He calls this the “three-day syndrome.” He claims that spending long amounts of time in nature will help:

  • rest and recharge the brain
  • improve our productivity
  • lower our stress levels
  • and make us feel better.
Hiking through the woods is a fun activity to do on a camping trip.
Hiking through the woods is a fun activity to do on a camping trip.

Kate Somers agrees. She says that, while long walks are great, camping for several days is a better, more complete experience.

"We feel it (camping) gives us all the ability to immerse ourselves more in the out-of-doors rather than just going on day hike. Here you get to spend more time out-of-doors and just kind of be in the space rather than necessarily always moving through it."

Camping, Carl adds, teaches you to know your surroundings and to think about one thing at a time. This is similar to Strayer’s claim that being in nature calms the brain and helps it to focus. It can show you how to take care of yourself in difficult situations. And this can help to increase your confidence in your abilities.

"Well, I think being more aware, in general, is something that transfers well to day-to-day life. I think being able to focus on one task. I think the self-confidence of knowing you can taking care of yourself in an adverse environment carries over well to day-to-day life.”

When you camp, life slows down. You are able to enjoy things like watching leaf cutter ants do their thing.
When you camp, life slows down. You are able to enjoy things like watching leaf cutter ants do their thing.

Nature as teacher

Giving your brain a rest so that it can work better is a great reason to go camping. But it is not the only reason. Nature is great teacher.

“And learning about animals and nature environments and how that sort of thing works is different when it's hands-on than when it's in school -- learning to deal with the weather; and learning to stay dry in the rain or warm in the snow; learning how to keep your feet in good condition when you're hiking and walking; learning how to dress for the elements ..."

Kate Somers adds that her camping experiences have given her confidence to deal with problems.

"It is definitely more challenging at the beginning just, sort of, be able to anticipate what you'll need and to know how to deal with certain situations.”

So, taking a long walk in the woods or by the ocean or in a city park is, of course, wonderful. But camping requires that you spend more time in nature and it can test you in different ways. You must immerse yourself more deeply in nature. And the health benefits can be deeper as well.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Have you been camping? And does it help you to relax? Let us know in the Comments Section.

Anna Matteo reported on this story for VOA Learning English while camping in West Virginia. George Grow was the editor.

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Quiz

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Words in This Story

relax v. to make or become loose or less tense : relaxing adj.

refresh v. to make (someone) have more energy and feel less tired or less hot

solitude n. a state or situation in which you are alone usually because you want to be

regenerate v. to give new life to (something) regenerative adj.

tap intophrasal verb to manage to use something in a way that brings good results

immerse v. to make (yourself) fully involved in some activity or interest

hands-on adj. gained by actually doing something rather than learning about it from books, lectures, etc.

adverse adj. bad or unfavorable : not good

confidence n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something

challenging adj. difficult in a way that is usually interesting or enjoyable​

anticipate v. to think of (something that will or might happen in the future)

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