How outdoor adventure could change your life

Ever daydream about getting away from it all and enjoying a bit of nature?

Well, if you’re a woman, that might not be a bad idea. In fact, it might be a life-saving idea. 

Research shows women who enjoy outdoor adventures are prolonging their lives, improving their ageing and mental health. 

Writer Caroline Paul recently published a book called Tough Broad about how outdoor adventure improves women’s lives as they age. But she didn’t just write about it, she also incorporated her personal experience by embracing outdoor challenges including mountain biking in the Andes and wing-walking.

Along the way, she found there was a mountain of evidence linking better ageing to living life more outdoors.

And while getting an adrenaline rush is admirable, ‘quiet’ outdoor activities are also beneficial.

“I did a deep dive into the current research on ageing,” Ms Paul told National Geographic.

“What I found after all this was a compelling argument that having adventures outside is the best thing that we women can do to ensure that we will live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives as we get older.”

Here is a round-up of the five things Ms Paul found on her adventures.

Mindset matters

If you think about ageing with a more positive attitude, you will age better. That sounds logical, but there is also a lot of science behind it.

This study demonstrated a clear link between ‘satisfaction’ with ageing and health outcomes. 

The problem is that many women suffer from a sense of loss and identity as they age, and it can be hard to turn that message around, so Ms Paul decided to discover how to reverse that thinking.

“These studies don’t tell us how to get that positive mindset, especially in the face of such negative messaging about our ageing journey. However, I had a sense that I had the answer: outdoor adventure,” Ms Paul said.

Finding strength

Ms Paul tried several outdoor adventures and found the experience transformative.

“If you go outside and pick an activity that makes you feel exhilaration, exploration, and physical vitality – even something as simple as boogie boarding – this is a direct rebuke to everything you’ve been told about your ageing journey,” she said 

“Now, you’ve upended your own beliefs and expectations – and others’– of what you can and cannot do. Now, you feel empowered about your future, not disheartened. I saw this over and over while reporting this book.”

However, she points out it doesn’t have to be physically challenging. In fact, one of her more rewarding adventures was birdwatching.

Nature is medicine

Getting outside is good for you, and once again, there’s a lot of science to back that up.

Trees release chemicals that are good for our immune system, and birdsong and looking at waves can relax our brains.

But you probably don’t need science to tell you that, just thinking about staring at the ocean can calm you down. 

Studies have shown just 15-45 minutes a week in a natural setting will make a difference to your wellbeing. But of course, more would be better. 

Embrace awe

Go outside and enjoy nature but in an ‘awesome’ way. Find out where you can view the aurora australis, discover a walk along a major waterway, and visit a magnificent flowering garden. All these things can inspire awe and you should embrace them. 

Awe, or enjoying something that is ‘bigger’ than you, can help you think more creatively, lower anxiety and feelings of depression and lower inflammatory markers

For an Australian angle, why not try the book Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things that Sustain You When the World Goes Dark, by Julia Baird.

Keep learning

If you make an effort to try an outdoor adventure, you are also learning by experience and learning keeps you mentally sharp

“Learning something new is not only possible, it’s vital to keep a brain healthy and active,” Ms Paul says. 

“We build new brain cells all the time. 

“If our cognition begins to falter, we’ll lay down different neural pathways to figure out whatever problem is at hand. This is what often makes an older brain more innovative than its younger self – it’s finding more creative ways to circumvent its own problem areas.”

Do you try to enjoy the outdoors? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Don’t let depression ruin your retirement

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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