What is your relationship with the outdoors?
What is your relationship with the outdoors? With International Women's Day being celebrated on March 8, we surveyed 820 women in our community about their relationship with hiking and nature. Here is what we found.
Solo hiking is more popular than you may expect
Tourism New Zealand has done some research into international tourist activities within New Zealand, finding that in the five years leading up to 2013, the majority of international visitors who went hiking in New Zealand came from Australia (74,400). In Australia, Roy Morgan found that over 2010-2015 the number of Australians over age 14 who hiked regularly/occasionally increased by 12% to approximately 5 million Australians. In the U.S, 44.9 million people hit the trails in 2017, as reported by the Outdoor Industry Association, up from 30 million in 2006, while the Pacific Crest Trail Association issued 7,313 trail permits in 2018, up from 1,879 in 2013.
But as for solo hiking, there has been little done to find out how many of us are heading outdoors on our own. Start digging around the topic of solo hiking and you come up against some opinions against it, mostly based around safety, but plenty of people spruiking its benefits.
Our survey of 820 women found a strong affinity with solo hiking.
67% of those women who had hiked over the past 12 months had done so on their own. The majority of these women rated the experience highly. See the below responses to the question, "To what extent do you enjoy hiking on your own?"
The largest share (23.1%) rated solo hiking a 10/10 for enjoyment, while the average rating was 7.5/10.
There is little wonder we see data like this, as the survey respondents were given the opportunity to describe their relationship with the outdoors.
“I need the natural world," said one respondent. "The air, the smell, the damp of the bush on a foggy morning, the sweet smell of grasses, the rustle of tiny lizards, the roar of the sea, the heat of the desert, the freedom of the hills.”
Check out some of the other responses below.
There is a strong role for women's groups
64% of women who responded to our survey said that they were open to joining a hiking group for women, with another 14.5% left unsure.
69% were keen to take on bigger and longer challenges in their hiking, which is where women's hiking groups may come into their own.
(Make sure you check out some of these women's programs that aim to bring people together to enjoy the outdoors.)
The role of nature in our health
While it isn't news that mental health has become a major concern in society, our survey picked up something alarming. 'Mental burnout' is described by the Black Dog Institute as "feeling exhausted and disconnected, and as though they’re 'going through the motions' without motivation or meaning" and that it shares symptoms with depression, including fatigue, social withdrawal and decreased work performance. It has traditionally been associated with the workplace and was re-classified by the World Health Organisation in 2019 as an occupational phenomenon that is restricted as a work-based syndrome rather than a medical condition. But there is no denying that how we feel at work impacts how we feel at home, which can cause larger health issues.
An alarming 56.7% of women in our survey had felt close to experiencing or had experienced mental burnout before.
97% either strongly agreed (77%) or agreed (20.7%) that regular immersion in nature is good for our wellbeing, indicating an innate awareness and appreciation for the role the environment plays in our direct ongoing health. While we understand a lot about what happens to us when we head outdoors, some of these key messages are either failing to reach us or there needs to be more explored in how nature affects our brains and bodies, as 89% of respondents believed there needed to be more scientific study of these benefits. Respondents were even more fervent (99.5%) in their belief that regular immersion in natural settings can improve the learning and behavioural outcomes of our kids.
"There are a lot of developmental benefits to getting kids outdoors," says Tim. "Kids who spend a lot of time in nature develop problem-solving abilities. Nature has no straight lines. If you’re a kid climbing a tree outdoors you have to make judgements about whether the branches are strong enough to support your weight. Your assessing risk all the time. You’re learning. You’re thinking. You’re having to make judgements for yourself."
The 2018 Outdoor Industry Association report found that people who were regularly exposed to the outdoors as children were more likely to participate in outdoor activities during adulthood.
There was a general split of opinions about whether or not this understanding of nature's role in our health is being supported enough in schools, with 54.8% of survey respondents believing schools could be doing more to support our interactions with nature.
Scientific research into how our brains and bodies relate to the outdoors is growing.
"Beyond brain imaging of experiences in nature, there is growing and compelling evidence that contact with diverse microbiomes in the soil and air has a profound effect on depression and anxiety," says Zoe Myers, Lecturer at the Urban Design Research Centre at the University of Western Australia.
What is clear is that the women in our survey had an overwhelming awareness and appreciation for the role of nature in our health.
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