Experiencing the outdoors is good for your health

Camping, caravan and motorhome holidays can encourage people outdoors and towards a potentially healthier lifestyle, says TV’s Dr Hilary Jones.  

An advocate of preventative measures in support of good health, Dr Hilary says there’s many aspects of camping and leisure vehicle activities that support both mental and physical well-being. 

“Two out of five GP consultations today are concerned with mental health,” says Dr Hilary. “More people are finding it difficult to manage psychological issues. We also have an obesity epidemic and problems with type-two diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and I am very opposed to prescribing medication when lifestyle changes could make such a difference. 

“Of course, everybody enjoys a holiday and setting apart quality leisure time is essential. Camping and leisure vehicle holidays provide the perfect opportunity to get up and go on shorter trips and adventures, and encourage family time as well as getting outdoors, exercise, a change of scenery, new adventures and socialising.

“Being outside and fresh air is quite simply good for us: most people don’t realise that indoor pollution is considerable, and even worse than outdoor. Spending lots of time indoors means an accumulation of the symptoms of modern living, such as dust and chemicals. Our grandparents were right when they said, ‘throw the windows open’! 

“We need to escape the perpetual central heating. Our bodies are designed to adapt to different environments: we respond to warm or cool environments through changing the calibre of blood vessels in our skin and keeping glucose levels steady, and exercise is key to this. If we’re outdoors we are more likely to be exercising, which is good for us. I’m a great fan of exercise: I’d rather people did this than resort too quickly to unnecessary medication.”

Dr Hilary suggests scientific evidence shows people also benefit from getting closer to nature, which is a fundamental connection for humans and the opposite of connecting to screens and electronic devices. A book called Healing Gardens* reports two thirds of people choose a natural setting to retreat to when feeling stressed, taking a walk or connecting with nature outdoors. The Human Environment Research Laboratory in Illinois, USA shows people spending time outside feel more connected to each other. 

“I hear many people say that when they have a nice day outside, they feel less stressed, less anxious and more positive in general,” says Dr Hilary Jones. “Taking a motorhome or tent onto a campsite there’s a real social aspect. They compare notes, talk about their environment, the activities they’re going to get involved in, walking, eating. Campers have big smiles on their face and tend to think more positively.” 

A leisure vehicle or camping holiday also offers versatility and flexibility, allowing lots of spontaneous, short holidays and weekend breaks: a four-day break can feel like a ten-day break, and campers have a particular freedom, able to move as they wish and without the restrictions of hotels or B&Bs. 

“The outdoors even impacts on recovery after surgery, concludes Dr Hilary Jones. “In a gall bladder surgery experiment, half the patients post-surgery had a view of hospital walls only, half had a view of the outdoors. The latter group reported less pain during recovery than those looking at just hospital walls. '