For many couples, days like Valentine’s Day—supposedly a day to celebrate love—can often create an atmosphere of pressure and performance anxiety instead. This year, mindbodygreen wants to help people in relationships reclaim a space of levity, ease, and play. Sometimes that’s as simple as finding the right environment to shed your worries and really set the tone: In this feature, Ruby McConnell, a geologist and author of A Woman’s Guide to the Wild, makes a pretty compelling case for spending your romantic date outdoors.
Experience and intuition have long told us that being outside makes us feel good. In recent years, though, the notion of outdoor time as a benefit to mind and body has moved into the cultural and medical mainstream. Researchers have found connections between time spent in nature and so many physical and mental health factors—from increased immunity to lowered risk of some cancers to more overall happiness.
While the personal benefits are well-documented, there’s a whole other area of our lives that can also be positively affected by spending time outdoors: our intimate relationships. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that outside activity kindles more than the campfire. Spending more time in nature can create connection, encourage intimacy, and even improve your s** life. Here are a few of the ways the outdoors can help light your fire:
1. Nature grants you the ability to be truly alone together.
Feeling like there are not enough hours in the day is common, especially when so much of our days can be taken up with technology and the demands of modern life. Getting outside helps combat that too-hectic-for-love feeling by taking you away from the pressure of work and social obligations and out of reach of cellphone service. By forcing you to disconnect with the rest of the world, being in nature creates a unique opportunity to truly connect with the actual person standing next to you.
2. It naturally clears your mind and puts you in high spirits.
Research has shown being in nature releases stress by reducing our cortisol levels and also stops unhelpful rumination, meaning we naturally have a clearer and calmer mind when we’re outdoors. It also exposes us to natural fragrances and essential oils that naturally relax us, as well as endorphin-releasing chemicals like the terpenes limonene and linalool and mood enhancers like vitamin D. Together, these effects can allow a couple to approach any connective activities with a lighter, more positive frame of mind and can make it easier to enjoy their time together.
3. The right location sets the mood.
Even in relationships, location can be everything. We’re all familiar with Hollywood’s portrayal of the great outdoors as the key to romance with its promise of breathtaking beauty, exotic sights and sounds, and potential for adventure. But proposals by romantic waterfalls, sunset walks on the beach, and sizzling soaks in hot springs don’t have to be just the stuff of movies. A good guidebook and some preplanning are all you need to find the perfect real-life setting for a movie-inspired fantasy.
4. Outdoor activities are often trust-building activities.
Tackling the kinds of challenges that come with outdoor sports and adventures like rock climbing, river rafting, mountain biking, or backpacking gives you an opportunity to overcome obstacles and fears together. These kinds of experiences not only bring you closer together but also improve your productive communication, an essential skill that strengthens your bond now and in the future.
5. The novelty of an outdoor experience creates stronger memories.
Being in the outdoors exposes you to new surroundings and experiences that build the kind of memories that studies show are an integral part of making it through tough times and a key component of relationship longevity. Remember, even the bad, ugly, and awkward moments can become hilarious memories, so take the sunburns, tipped canoes, and mosquito nests with a grain of salt; they’ll make a great campfire story someday.
6. Being outdoors can increase your s** drive.
The rush of endorphins and the adrenaline from breathtaking landscapes, adventure, and fresh-air activities can generally leave you feeling more frisky, but if you’re doing anything particularly active, that exercise increases your blood flow—including sending more blood to your s**ual organs—and also increases testosterone levels, which gives our s** drives a big boost and can increase our levels of arousal.
7. It also makes you look and feel s**ier.
Who doesn’t look and feel s**ier when they’re windswept and flush-faced? It’s not your imagination. All kinds of exercise, not just outdoor pursuits, reduce puffiness and increase tone and vitality in facial tissues, giving you a healthier, more youthful glow. And don’t underestimate the energetic (and physical) shine that projects from your body after accomplishing a goal or doing something exciting. Everyone is attracted to vigor and vitality.
8. Being in nature triggers a mindful state—which has been proven to make s** feel better.
Some studies show moving through green spaces can put us into a meditative state, in which our brains are less active and aroused and we achieve a sense of “effortless attention” to what’s happening around us. “Setting aside artificial stimulation and immersing yourself in nature makes you more aware of your surroundings,” Dr. Cyndi Gilbert, a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor specializing in women’s health, explains to mbg. “You hear the rustle of leaves, the creaking of trees, and the songs of the birds. It’s meditation mindfulness at its most simple.”
When it comes to building intimacy with a partner, that mindfulness mindset can have a big impact: “It is this part of yourself that can pick up and process hundreds of subtle cues from your partner’s breathing, their body, sighs, and reactions that the thinking mind will completely miss,” meditation teacher Justyn Comer tells mbg. “You’ll just instinctively know what the right move is without knowing why. You may not actually be psychic, but your partner may well think you are.”
Through helping you tap into this heightened mindful state, being outdoors can deepen your sense of spiritual connection as a couple by opening your senses, honing your intuition, and helping you connect with your surroundings and each other.
9. Being outside doesn’t cost a dime.
It’s no secret that one of the most common argument triggers in relationships is money, and a lot of us associate romantic dates with high expense. Instead of running your credit up or your bank accounts down on restaurants or event tickets, alleviate financial stress by bringing a picnic and taking advantage of your local parks and wild lands for a date that’s big on experience and small on expense.
10. Lastly, it mixes things up.
Variety is the spice of life and a successful relationship. Use your time outside to add some zest and experimentation to your intimacy by taking advantage of unique locations and the kind of freedom you can only find outside. You may discover a whole new kind of wild side.