As collective levels of physical, emotional and psychological health, well-being and general happiness continue to decline at an alarming rate in the Developed World, public health experts are increasingly looking to new, novel ways of managing and ideally reversing this trend. This is applicable to children, adolescents, adults and older individuals.
For me personally I feel passionately about ensuring my children's generation finds happiness and contentment in their lives, and as such one such approach that has powerfully caught my attention (perhaps because we love anything to do with being outside, particularly if it involves lighting fires!) is a concept labelled Primal Wellness.
The subject of intense clinical research, Primal Wellness is based upon the fact that indigenous cultures, past and present, that operate outside of Western interaction, have astonishingly high levels of health and well-being.
Medical and social anthropologists have intensively studied the current and historical health profiles of such indigenous people from dozens of tribes in Africa, South America and Asia. Their findings suggest incredibly low (in some cases non-existent) levels of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease.
Furthermore, they are also excessively happy! Most of these cultures do not have recognised words for problems such as depression, anxiety, stress or fatigue.
Clinical assessments are showing that these people are existing in a state of near optimal balance, physically, emotionally and psychologically and through doing so, they remain incredibly fit, healthy and disease free for most of their lives.
This is the topic of intense research at the moment and the findings are consistently flagging up one key, and perhaps unexpected, variable that is responsible for this; nature and the natural world. Delving further into this area, the research is suggesting that the reason the Developed World is currently so unhealthy and unhappy is largely due to the fact that we have moved so far from our origins, our evolutionary roots, what we know best; in other words, our inherent, genetic “need” for nature and nature immersion. This is in direct contrast to the Indigenous cultures that spend most of their waking hours outside, walking, tracking animals, foraging, collecting food and medicinal plants, cooking over embers, playing and socialising.
The way this is best demonstrated is with fire. I am sure everyone reading this will know the deep, calming satisfaction that comes with staring into a glowing fire or how lighting a camp fire or fire pit unites and galvanises a group; we congregate around it and feel better for doing so. In essence, it is therapeutic.
Research supports this, showing how humans more effectively enter into a health promoting relaxation response (when our immune system, digestion etc optimises) when around a fire than when in the same environment without a fire. The rationale is robust; fire is embedded into our DNA as a life giving and protective factor. That message is just as active in our genes now as it was 5000 years ago. Thus immerse a group of fatigued, stressed, unhappy, burnt-out or anxious Westerners in a beautiful natural environment or around a glowing fire in the forest and they will experience the same health promoting benefits as their forefathers.
However, this doesn’t just apply to fire! It applies to nature in its broadest sense, with the research suggesting that just as our bodies need food and water to function and thrive, it also needs nature and primal skills and activities. The need for this is embedded into our genetic make up. Therefore it is no surprise that walking, hiking, plant foraging, animal tracking, wild cooking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, wild camping, star gazing and al fresco feasts have all been shown to induce health, optimise wellbeing, reduce stress, manage depression, increase resiliency and just as importantly leave people feeling happy, calm and contented.
The rationale and research around the Primal Wellness concept is so robust that that we can no longer ignore it, and we will continue to offer an array of opportunities that harness the great outdoors but I would encourage all of you make it a part of your daily routine. Enjoy the sunshine, embrace the rain and to recognise that the answer to health and happiness is very much within the capacity of each and everyone of us.
The great outdoors is calling so get out there.