Between changing the way we see our bodies to boosting our mental health, time in nature can help us reconnect with ourselves and the ways in which we lives our lives.
While the evidence is compelling that time outdoors is beneficial, it can be tough to prioritize our time amidst life’s daily responsibilities. If you or someone you know needs additional encouragement to hit the trails, here are 5 ways that women can benefit from heading outdoors.
1. It’s about what your body can do, not how it looks.
Our culture takes every opportunity to remind us that our bodies are a mass of miserable flaws that we are obligated to “fix.”
But the truth is that our bodies are pretty badass – and nowhere can we learn to feel more at home in them than the great outdoors.
Our butts and thighs may jiggle, but they are powerful enough to propel us up the steep incline of a rock scramble and keep us steady as we descend.
Our hands and arms may be “crepey” – the latest trend in “let’s make women feel insecure about themselves” – but they are tenacious teammates as we scale our favorite peaks.
And our cores may not resemble washboards, but they are strong and sturdy enough to help us traverse uneven terrain while remaining upright (at least most of the time).
Though we’ve been taught to take up as little space as possible, when you head outdoors, you’re reminded that you are not now nor have you ever been less than.
In fact, you are more than you know.
2. You set your own boundaries
From the time that we’re young, women are subjected to unwanted attention in its many forms.
From looking to cat-calling to touching, the scenarios are as numerous as the women who have lived them.
As a result, many of us know what it’s like to feel powerless in our own bodies.
Yet when we head outdoors, we get to explore the world on our own terms.
We set our own boundaries, in our own time, and in our own ways. And we challenge them as only we see fit.
And as our boundaries become our own again, the subsequent sense of empowerment not only can help us heal, but it can serve as a compelling reminder that we are indeed strong and capable.
3. You practice making tough decisions.
Being outdoors requires skill – and one of the most important skills you’ll practice is learning how to make tough decisions.
As women, we often struggle with our confidence, and that can put a contentious crimp in our decision-making. Because making firm decisions requires that you have confidence both in your ability to make an assessment and to implement the “right” solution.
But when you head outdoors, especially if you explore alone, you’ll be forced to make some tough calls on the regular.
Am I ready for this peak?
Is the weather turning?
This hike is more difficult than I expected….should I turn around?
I can’t seem to keep the trail…should I keep going?
Undoubtedly, you’ll question yourself, and at times, you’ll make mistakes. But as you grow, you’ll improve your skills and learn to trust your judgment.
And in doing so, you’ll gain the experience and confidence you need not only to handle life on the trails, but off the trails as well.
4. It keeps you active.
Sadly, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, claiming nearly 300,000 lives each year.
While we can’t change known risk factors such as age or genetics, we CAN control our physical activity. And getting regular exercise is one of the most important things we can do to lower our risk of developing (and subsequently dying from) heart disease.
Thankfully, the outdoors offers boundless opportunities to keep our bodies moving. From paddles to bike rides to breathtaking hikes, there is something for any age, ability, and interest level to enjoy.
And for all of your hard work, you’ll be rewarded not only with a dose of energizing endorphins, but all of the spectacular views your healthy heart can handle.
5. It boosts your mental health.
Women are perpetual caregivers, and it’s often much easier for us to attend to others’ needs than our own. Yet each year, approximately 1 in 5 women struggle with a mental health condition, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or an eating disorder.
While talk therapy and medication may help, exposure to nature also has well-documented benefits to our mental health, including but not limited to decreasing stress levels, improving creativity, lowering depression, decreasing rumination, easing PTSD, and improving our sense of subjective well-being.
Though longer hikes, bike rides, and paddles may be ideal to help you disconnect from the world (and reconnect with yourself), even a 20-minute walk in a local park can do the trick.
So if you don’t have time for the Franconia Ridge Loop or a Presidential Traverse, not to worry – because even a shorter excursion can boost your mental health.
Where to go next?
Though women may be discouraged from spending time outdoors because of its “safety” concerns, it’s up to every woman to decide for herself how she’s comfortable exploring the world around her.
If you’re a woman – or know women – who would like to be more active outdoors, check out the following resources to help you on your journey:
Trail to Summit (this site!) – see our pages of resources under “Female Hikers”
Last modified: November 8, 2017