From my academic and professional background in outdoor adventure leadership, I have seen and experienced the character developing qualities of outdoor activities.
Outward Bound, one of the two leading experience-based outdoor leadership programs in the U.S., base their program off the model that we build strong character by facing challenges and overcoming adversity. This idea was proposed by Kurt Hahn after he had observed soldiers in World War I. He noticed that the older soldiers were surviving and the younger, more fit soldiers were the ones dying. He reflected on this observation and concluded that the older soldiers were more likely to survive due to their resilience and tenacity, something that can only be gained from experience. His idea was then to create opportunities that challenge young adults on a small scale, say on an outdoor adventure trip, in order to bring out those strong characteristics which would then roll over into participant’s daily life.
One example of how outdoor activities have personally impacted my life is the feeling of independence and resilience gained while backpacking. The idea that I can care for myself in the absence of creature comforts and react appropriately to events out of my control (like bad weather or broken gear) is very empowering. This then transfers over to my everyday life, leaving me feeling more confident and capable of handling whatever life throws my way.
Another example of the impact of outdoor activities would be the idea that I can constantly improve at a skill, yet always have room to go back and do it better the next time. When I rock climb, there is always a move I can make smoother or a route that surpasses my abilities. I love being reminded that there is always room for growth, in every area of my life. The most important thing is to keep coming back and trying again and again in the hopes that one day you will finally make it to the top of that once impossible climb.
The idea of challenge relates back to both the emotional and intellectual dimensions of wellness. As long as you are problem solving and stimulating your brain through challenging situations, you are keeping your brain and memory sharp. In addition to that, challenging situations makes you more resilient to future adversity which makes outdoor activities great for emotional wellness.
To learn more about Outward Bound, check out the link below: http://www.outwardbound.org/about-outward-bound/outward-bound-today/