Happy Camping: Health Benefits of the Great Outdoors

My dryer is not drying; my dishwasher, like most of us in this household, is refusing to stay in the “normal” cycle; and my freezer is successfully proving Al Gore’s theory on global warming. I am drying my clothing by draping them over patio furniture, washing dishes by hand, making multiple trips to the garage fridge and most importantly—coping. Why? Because I firmly believe campers cope.

There have been recent studies pertaining to the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor adventure. Who knew my health was being positively affected by an activity I have enjoyed since childhood? Here are a few key beneficial reasons to become a happy camper.

Reduce stress

There is something truly magical about getting away from it all and reconnecting with nature. Of course, the studies did not factor in what happens to your cortisol (the nasty hormone) when your family’s trailer decides to make a pilgrimage down a hill toward the lake, or when you discover that skunks like peaches tossed into the woods by non-peach loving children. Or, when you realize that last piece of wood you are gathering from the pile has a pretty triangular design and begins to slither.

Happy Camper 2

Increase exercise

As my oldest daughter eloquently put it, “We are living the life that’s listed on the back of a tampon box. We can swim, hike, kayak, ride bikes…”

Get a good night’s sleep

The light of computer and phone screens is wreaking havoc on our melatonin levels (the drool-producing, snoring like a grandpa sleeps hormone). Getting out into REAL light has been proven to induce a sound slumber.

Enjoy good food

I believe researchers were referring to outdoor cooking, eating fresh fruits and veggies and not eating on the run. I fear that a cold Molson, salt and vinegar chips and s’mores were not included in their findings.


I am still a work in progress on clearing my mind (if you are too, check out this guide for 5-minute meditation). Seriously, how does one focus on…wait what was I saying? Regardless of past failures in this department, I did sit for an HOUR while a butterfly was perched on my left foot. In my mind, that has to count for something.


There is power in play. I have witnessed my children work on puzzles, play games and create scavenger hunts. As adults, they now play a version that includes hiding small beverages and festive attire with the marching orders of “drink it or wear it” but still, you have to love their creativity.

Improve relationships

I think as humans there is a primal sense to have community. Camping brings the need to trust and depend on each other to the forefront. Also, there is a certain level of intimacy that occurs when you’re squatting in the woods next to someone.

If you are unable or not wanting to experience outdoor living, you can still adopt a coping camper mentality. Take time to breathe deeply, enjoy some natural sunlight and vitamin D, feel the breeze on your face, activate your senses and unplug and bond with those you love around a backyard campfire. Stuff happens, especially on a camping trip.

What I have learned from my outdoor adventures—which have benefited my mental and physical health—is to creatively work through obstacles, be in “awe” of your surroundings, cherish time with those you love and always have a lighter, whistle and toilet paper on your person at all times.


Mary Helen Darah is an award-winning columnist who has appeared in numerous publications in the Toledo area and beyond. Her column, The Mother of Mayhem, publishes on ProMedica HealthConnect the first of each month.