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Outdoor Economy

How does Outdoor Recreation Inspire Scientific Discovery and Innovation?

 

BenFranklinDuplessis

Did Ben Franklin discover Kite-boarding?

“When Ben Franklin was 9, his eldest brother was lost at sea, still Ben never lost his love for the water.

On a pleasant day, while young Ben was flying a kite, he decided to go for a swim.  Still wanting to fly his kite but reluctant to leave the water, it occurred to him he need not forgo one diversion for the other.  While in the water he let the kite pull him across the pond without the least fatigue and the greatest pleasure imaginable!”

(“Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv)

Could this event have led Ben Franklin to discover electricity and kite boarding!?

Ben Franklin did spend a lot of time playing outside as a child and was insatiably curious about what he encountered. Franklin’s curiosity would later inspire him to write theories about electricity, weather, ocean currents, and other discoveries that influenced many of the innovators who would follow.

Many scientists and inventors that have led to the technology and inventions we take for granted today have been inspired by their time recreating outside and observing nature.  Nikola Tesla was known to take long walks and spend time at the park contemplating his many theories.  Much of the modern wireless technology was developed from his ideas. 

How does Outdoor Recreation in natural areas inspire innovation?

Outdoor recreation in natural areas has been shown to improve mental and physical well-being.  According to a number of studies conducted over the last 25 years, unstructured physical activity in the outdoors inspires natural curiosity, improves social and emotional development, enhances perception and motor skills, builds creativity, encourages self-expression, and develops appreciation for the environment.

In a Janaury 2005 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Burdette and Whitaker show that free play outdoors promotes problem solving and decision making, which is one of the highest executive functions.  Several small studies along with surveys of parents and teachers have shown that free play also reduces attention deficit disorder and improves focus.

Our experiences shape the way we view the world.

Children that play outside see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem and are exposed to natural laws. Children that spend time in the natural world are less fearful of it.

Many people in the developed world spend most of their time disconnected from the outside world.  From their home, to the car, to school or the office and back, people do everything they can to keep a barrier between them and nature.  The average American child spends less than 30 minutes in outdoor unstructured play.  Studies have shown that the sedentary, plugged in lifestyle may be responsible for the 200% rise in obesity and trepidation in the outdoors. A 2009 study showed that 62% of children surveyed in developed countries had a fear of natural events such as snow, thunder, and rain.  Inventors like Franklin and Tesla embraced natural events as opportunities to gain a better understanding of the world.

Outdoor Recreation is exercise for your brain.

Physical activity in natural areas has also been shown to increase attentiveness and greatly improve the brains ability to learn and retain information. Physical activity causes the brain to function more efficiently through a process called neurogenesis, where new brain cells are produced stimulating BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which has been nicknamed “fertilizer for the brain”.

“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning” according to Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.  Some of the highest performing schools in math and science in the world are incorporating physical activity as part of the curriculum. “Exercise and the Brain” has been the focus of several courses led by Wendy Suzuki, associate professor of neuroscience at New York University.

Outdoor recreation is not just Childsplay.

Canadian researchers found that physical activity greatly improved the cognitive function and physical well-being of elderly adults analyzed over two to five years in a 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

An understanding of nature is being encouraged by many businesses.  Companies such as IBM, GE, Boeing, Airbus, Nike, Levi’s, Johnson & Johnson and others are now encouraging their engineers to spend time observing nature in order to design the products of the future. The study of natural systems has led to incredible nature inspired innovations on desalinating water, architectural design, powerful adhesives, medicines, aviation design, and extremely strong and lightweight materials.

 

766px-Kitesurfer_in_closeup_exmouth_devon_arpOutdoor recreation has also been shown to reduce employee stress and stress related absences causing an increase in productivity and morale in the work place.

“Let My People Go Surfing” was the attitude and book title of Yvon Choinand, CEO of Patagonia. He attributes Patagonia’s increase in sales from $20 million to $100 million from the mid 1980s to 1990 to the culture of happy, motivated people that worked for the company and often went recreating outdoors during lunch breaks and weekends.

Whether raising a child, improving grades, stimulating a business, or developing the next genius, breakthrough invention, it might be time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors!

Comment (1)

  1. [...] grow rapidly as one of the largest industries in the world. Also, numerous studies have shown that physical activity in outdoor settings can greatly improve one’s mental and physical well being. There are opportunities to connect with the outdoor community of vibrant individuals who tend to [...]

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