Roughing It For Better Health
I’ve run into some research lately that has shown significant health benefits from, of all things, camping. These benefits are more numerous than I ever imagined, and include things like reduced stress, decreased depression, better sleep, healthier eating, and improved memory. Group walks in nature have been shown to improve many aspects of psychological well being (1), and following the natural light / dark cycle of the sun rather than the alarm clock has been shown to improve our circadian rhythm and sleep (2) (3).
When our daughters were young we did a fair amount of camping, so I feel obligated to share my first hand knowledge of the health benefits of teaching young children the joys of roughing it, being one with nature, and living off the land. But the natural world is fraught with danger, and surviving in the wilderness requires knowledge and planning. The children’s safety must be a priority, so specific sources of danger need to be understood.
The first source of danger that children might encounter is their parents, and the most effective survival item needed to avert this danger is beer. The stress-reduction properties of camping are in large part due to beer, and this leads to a few other items that are a must for safety, including a cooler with ice, and a campground with electricity and an ice machine to keep the beer cold.
The second source of danger for children in the wilderness is freezing temperatures. So after everyone has had a few beers, the next step is to build a fire. The most natural way to do this is with stones and some dry grass. Before technology, humans apparently had a lot more time on their hands to make fires. This is one area where I allowed myself some modern conveniences so that I could focus more of my attention on keeping the children safe, so to save time I used gasoline and a blow torch. There is another method using matches and newspaper, but this often involves the unsafe practice of kneeling on all fours and blowing until you lose consciousness, which causes the even less safe practice of falling face first into the fire.
Once your fire is up and running, continued diligence is a must to ensure that you follow proper campground etiquette, which states that no one else’s fire can be bigger than yours. This is a great time to train the children in the important survival skill of collecting enough firewood to power the city of New York. They can then be trained in the equally important skill of getting just close enough to the fire to roast a marshmallow without setting themselves on fire.
Just as dangerous as freezing temperatures is the wildlife in the bathroom and shower facilities, which can include bacteria the size of chipmunks, insects the size of small children, small children, and other campers who don’t exactly look like they have been living off the land. The best way to protect your children from these hazards is with PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment, including flip-flops, shin guards, goggles, R95 industrial respirator, latex gloves, surgical scrubs, and helmet.
So now that most of the dangers of the wilderness have been addressed, you can relax and enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors, including exercise, fresh air, and restful sleep. Many seasoned campers rave about the quality of sleep that is possible when an artificial alarm is not waking you up at an arbitrary time. Rather, your circadian rhythm becomes synchronized with natural cues like sunset, sunrise, and the ebb and flow of the sounds of crickets, birds, frogs, screaming infants, fighting children, and drunk parents who are still downing beers and stoking massive fires at five in the morning.
Another apparent benefit of camping is healthy eating. This is palpable if you walk around any typical campground and smell the sizzling sausage, bacon, eggs, hot dogs, and cheeseburgers which are made all the more healthier because you can only eat as much as you could stuff in your car after all the camping equipment and children are shoved in. After it’s gone, that’s it. Now you must live off the land by foraging for berries or catching fresh fish from the stream like our health-conscious ancestors did thousands of years ago, probably at this very campground. I’ve known campers whose co workers barely recognize them when they return from a week in the wilderness.
No camping trip is complete without the traditional task of packing everything up to go home, which can often take more time than the actual trip. But learning how to do this efficiently without leaving behind any equipment or children is another essential skill that must be mastered. Equally important is the skill needed to pry the equipment from your vehicle when you get home, clean the vehicle and all its contents, do the laundry and get everything put away. It takes skill and teamwork to get this done in a timely fashion, and beginners often have a hard time completing the task before it is time for the next camping trip, even if that is the following year. So a useful technique for beginning campers is to simply leave everything in the car until the next trip.
Now you can sit back, refreshed and rejuvenated, with a new appreciation of how easy your life is when you are not camping, and secure in the knowledge that your family can survive in the wild in the event that all of our modern conveniences some day disappear.