Does living in a van provide health benefits? Is it only for the wealthy glampers or can anyone tap into the opportunities for a lifestyle change for your health?
There are many reasons people may get into or try out the van life or lifestyle of living in a van. Could one of those reasons be to get in shape and look after your health? Many terms are turning up about our outdoor spaces like forest bathing, grounding, blue spaces and more. But what are these hip phrases? What do they mean and what do they have to do with health and van life?
Forest bathing is the translated Japanese term Shinrin-yoku, born from Shinto beliefs. The therapy and idea were developed in the high-stress environment of 1980s Japan as a way to fight increasing cardiac health conditions in the population like heart attacks and strokes. This therapy involving immersed walks in forests and greenery has proven to reduce high blood pressure, and stress levels and provide benefits to heart health. Forest bathing is absorbing the forest around you and not a rushed experience but a mindful and connecting one to the sights and sounds around you. This conscientious therapy interrupts the stress response and lowers cortisol levels and heart rates for a very calming effect on the body and mind.
Even just the presence of plants indoors has been found to have positive health benefits. A study by the University of Technology in Sydney found that indoor plants in the workplace boosted job satisfaction, productivity, and performance and reduced sick leave and stress levels. So forests can be fantastic but even just some pot plants will provide mental relief and noticeable improvements. So those mad keen plant people – they’re onto something.
Grounding is a therapy with the idea of tactile connection to the earth. Every concept of grounding is exposing our skin to the connection of nature without any clothing barriers. It can be walking barefoot on the beach or grass or swimming in a river or ocean. The scientific theory behind grounding is that electrical charges from the earth can have positive effects on the body. A less researched therapy – but the small studies that have occurred so far have shown to reduce things like blood cell clumping, pain, stress, blood pressure, fatigue and depression in study participants.
Blue Space is immersion in natural water-based environments such as oceans, rivers and waterfalls. These Blue Spaces tend to have less air pollution present and patterns show people who live near blue spaces are more physically active. Physical activity has strong links to reducing risks of illnesses (Diabetes, Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s) and because it releases endorphins and serotonin – it can boost mental wellbeing and reduce social isolation. The added benefit of Blue Spaces over green ones is the audible benefit from water sounds (lapping waves, rushing water etc) as it is rhythmic and meditative. Think of nights you are lulled to sleep by the sound of rain on a roof and how soothing this can be. This meditative calmness that Blue Space allows improves creativity, productivity and mental clarity for brain processing power.
But what is so negative about urban spaces? Sure, they have their conveniences of resources, entertainment and regular social events to gather. The downside is research shows urban environments are linked to risks of multiple mental illnesses; depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia. The amygdala – is a part of the brain that is used to process stress, the “flight or fight” response and emotional learning. This part of the brain is less active in rural regions when compared to suburbia.
So what does VanLife have to do with forest bathing, grounding and blue space? It is worth noting lifestyles in a van remain individual as you can drive a van anywhere it has the capability to drive. However, in our experience of living in a van – the places to engage in these therapies are more readily accessible with a van. We find it is easier to get out to numerous & various forests, oceans, and rivers and engage in tactile connection with nature and the earth. A trip to the beach is no longer a process to plan and pack for but a casual drive there because everything is with you already. You don’t need to worry about where you might sleep for the night or where to eat. The bedroom and kitchen are always handy! This accessibility is showcased in the highlight reel of Instagram feeds with #vanlife where vans are shown parked in spectacular outdoor locations. This is the superpower and appeal of the lifestyle in a van. Van living has also strong themes of engagement in outdoor recreation (rock climbers surfers, divers, hikers, mountain biking, kite-surfing) since it is so convenient to transport the gear these hobbies utilise. These recreational activities have strong links to therapeutic effects on mental wellbeing.
Is it important for us to be reflecting on the impact of environments on our health? Perhaps there’s not so much that needs fixing? Health statistics in Australia say otherwise though. Suicide is the leading cause of death for the age group 15-44 years in Australia. The COVID pandemic impacts didn’t help this either with more than 3.4 million Aussies seeking help from a professional for Mental Health in 2020-2021. Furthermore, we know many people don’t seek help for mental stress – particularly men with an estimated 72% of males not seeking help with a mental disorder. This is an alarming number of people at risk and not getting help. A problem that may not be solved by outdoor therapies & van life but is unlikely to be harmed by engaging in it. It is also these alternative therapies in combination with traditional modern medicine that is increasingly hopeful for treating mental health.
Whether or not you are prepared to engage in therapies that the outdoors provides, these therapies have minimal risk. However, it is always best to consult your doctor for recommended practices specific to you and treat any underlying health conditions first. We also recommend adhering to local authority information at any parks, reserves or areas you plan on visiting to engage in the outdoors. The advice provided by these authorities can be lifesaving in extreme seasonal conditions and areas where dangerous wildlife & vegetation can be encountered.
So now that you’re armed with an understanding of how nature and van life can influence your health – would you be willing to try it out and see for yourself? We can assure you if nothing else – you will get to go on a great adventure and create some amazing memories with your nearest and dearest!