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News TitleHealth Benefits of Non-Motorized Outdoor Recreation
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Health benefits of non-motorized outdoor recreation

(Report summarised by Michael Feller)

 

Our Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. (FMCBC) obtained funding, primarily from MEC, to have researchers at SFU conduct a review of the health benefits of non-motorized outdoor recreation as well as assess the participation rates and the economic contribution of these forms of recreation in B.C. This was necessary to counter the arguments of the motorized crowd that motorized outdoor recreation was of greater social and economic importance in B.C. The SFU reports were released in March, 2014 and will soon be on the FMCBC website. They make for very interesting and worthwhile reading. Below is a summary of the findings on the health benefits of some of our forms of recreation. The full report - “Health benefits of non-motorized outdoor recreation: a summary of published findings” - is by Stephen Kux and Wolfgang Haider of the SFU School of Resource and Environmental Management.

There have been many studies covering a range of activities that have been linked with benefits to physical health, but the SFU report focuses on three activities - hiking, rock climbing, and alpine skiing. These activities may not necessarily be the activities with the largest health benefits, but so far they happen to have received the most attention. 

 

Hiking has been studied most extensively compared with other outdoor recreation activities and has been linked to health benefits such as: 

- a 50% reduction in the risk of coronary artery disease 

- improved heart function; 

- improved insulin sensitivity; 

- accumulation of lean body mass;

- reduced heart rate and blood pressure; 

- increased production of naturally generated stem cells in the blood; 

- reductions in blood-bound “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoproteins); 

- improvements in the perceived health of participants.

Interestingly, hiking at higher elevations, even elevations around 1700 – 2000m, has been shown to have increased beneficial effects. Oxygen deprivation (there is increasingly less oxygen as elevation increases) has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and help the body make better use of the nutrition it receives.While hiking at sea level is advantageous to overall health, hiking at higher elevations provides the additional benefit of reduced oxygen availability.  

 

Rock climbing places different demands on our bodies than does hiking. While both sports impact the cardiovascular system, rock climbing requires more muscular strength and endurance. Both indoor and outdoor rock climbing have been shown to improve strength, cardiovascular fitness, psychological well-being, and even lead to advantageous hormonal responses. Thus, rock climbinghas resulted in: 

- improved cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance;

- improved aerobic function;

- more efficient metabolism of oxygen;

- improved hormone regulation;

- improved physical strength and body composition in children.

 

 Downhill (alpine) Skiingis not entirely non-motorized in that participants frequently make use of lifts or vehicles to convey them to the start of a route. However, like hiking and rock climbing, it exercises the lungs and heart. Skiing is also comparable in the demands it places on major muscle groups in the lower body. Skiing, however, is a much more fast-paced activity. As such, it requires the development of reflexes and fast-twitch muscle fibres, providing a unique collection of health benefits. I would expect that alpine touring or ski mountaineering would combine the benefits of both hiking and downhill skiing.Downhill skiing has been found to result in:

- enhanced hormone production;

- lasting improvements to resting heart rate and blood pressure;

- reduced risk of cardiovascular disease;

- increased efficiency in oxygen absorption;

- improved jump height, dynamic leg strength and balance in the elderly.

 

Health benefits of being in a natural setting

It has been found that simply being present in a natural setting accrues health benefits not seen in participants who spend their time in an urban environment. These benefits pertain to both mental and physical health and include:

- heightened cognitive function;

- higher reported happiness;

- perceived rejuvenation;

- improved attention span;

- greater motivation to address life challenges;

- stabilized heart rate;

- reduced production of stress hormones;

- enhanced responsiveness to stimuli;

- increases in reported spiritual inspiration;

- heightened immune system function and increased production of anti-cancer proteins. (The active agent in this increased production of anti-cancer proteins is thought to be airborne chemicals called phytoncides, which are released by trees).

 

The study concludes that it is important to provide the public with access to recreation that can improve health and prolong lives. Non-motorized outdoor recreation activities clearly encourage physical fitness. Several general health benefits, such as improved cardiovascular fitness, reduced body fat, and improved strength, can be accrued through participation in many non-motorized outdoor recreation activities. Other health benefits, such as improved insulin sensitivity, and hormonal responses are specific to the type of recreation activity. In addition to simply providing exercise, non-motorized outdoor recreation encourages participants to visit a natural setting and this has been associated with additional physical and mental benefits. Time spent outside of an urban setting has been shown to have a restorative effect on the mental processes of people who engage in it, leading to an improved outlook and a heightened potential to engage in further recreation. Once the cycle of improved health begins to take hold on a person, it creates a self-perpetuating pattern of positive behavioural choices. Extrapolated into the long-term and across a broad scale, non-motorized outdoor recreation has the potential to not only improve the quality of life of most people, but it may ultimately help strengthen Canada’s national economy.

 

 

 

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Health Nenefits of Non-Motorized Outdoor Recreation
_Health Nenefits of Non-Motorized Outdoor Recreation
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