I have realised that living here in the jungle has done wonders for my health, and that of the people that surround me, both mental and physical. Each and every person whom we have waved off on the Collectivo has left a happier and healthier person than they were when they arrived.
But why? The positive impact that Camp Osita has on one's physical health has an obvious explanation, and can be attributed to the regular exercise, healthy diet and structured routine experienced here at camp. The benefits that camp life has on one’s mental health are harder to pinpoint, though impossible to deny.
Before coming here, my weekly exercise consisted of running for the bus, occasionally taking the stairs and jumping to conclusions. Now, I walk ten kilometres up the beach five days a week, and that is just to start my day! It is empowering to feel your body strengthen and change with regular exercise. I remember my first trip up ‘shady trail’, an incredibly steep and arduous trail - my legs burned and trembled, my lungs felt like they were about to explode and I seriously doubted my ability to get to the top. Now I can manage the trail with ease, and am able to take in the beauty around me, rather than concentrate only on my breathing. Many people who rarely worked out at home are now strong, muscled and healthy. And it doesn't feel like exercise when you are looking for turtles or monkeys, and are surrounded by breath-taking views!
Also, it is scientifically proven that regular exercise has benefits for one's mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, which in turn create an overall feeling of happiness or euphoria. Exercise also increases concentrations of norepinephrine - a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. It also increases relaxation, helps alleviate anxiety and boosts self-confidence. So it's really no wonder our volunteers leave here feeling happier and more at peace with themselves!
Our diet here on camp is incredibly healthy too, consisting mainly of fresh vegetables and rice. For many volunteers, who have gotten used to takeaways and processed foods back at home, their bodies welcome this change in diet. What you eat determines your strength, agility, coordination, endurance, speed and level of performance. Many people feel the transformation in their bodies after a few weeks of this healthier diet. And, there is also evidence that links diet and mental health: nearly two thirds of those who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit or fruit juice every day, compared with less than half of those who do report daily mental health problems.
Finally, I believe that it is our surroundings that promote the general feeling of wellbeing at Camp Osita. We wake up every day to clean air and green trees, and that makes me smile every single morning. Living in civilisation, and often in big cities, it is easy to forget that we are beings of nature, and it is important to return to it. Environmental psychology maintains that spending time in nature has three positive impacts: reduction in stress, improvements in mood and increased cognitive performance. On a personal, and rather unscientific, level, I support this theory wholeheartedly. Looking around at my peers, and speaking to them about their own experiences with nature, I believe that life on Camp Osita provides solid evidence to verify these ideas. More than the diet or the exercise, I believe that it is Mother Nature, and our full immersion in her, that positively affects our mental health.
So, all in all, Camp Osita is not just an incredible and fun packed experience - it should be prescribed by your doctor! I am a healthier and happier person thanks to my time here, and I hope I do not forget the lessons I have learnt here about the importance of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and time spent in nature when I return to civilisation.
And really, is it so surprising that spending time in Costa Rica, named the ‘happiest place in the world’ (thanks to its high score on the The Happy Planet Index report), should have a positive impact on my mental health? The country’s catchphrase is ‘pura vida’, which translates to pure life, but in my opinion it is really the Costa Rican version of ‘hakuna matata’. Ask any Tico how they are and they will usually respond with ‘pura vida’ - which reflects the laid back, relaxed and happy approach the country has to life.