Sometimes it can be difficult to imagine balancing the obvious dangers of bad health with the less-defined dangers of what we might actually encounter when we go outside for some exercise. For example, we all know exactly how dangerous heart disease and diabetes are. We know how much they diminish overall life expectancy. But those of us who like to venture out into the forests, hills, and mountains should have a decent idea of the dangers we face, too.
The good news is this: most of the dangers are overblown.
For example, we grow up with the belief that bears are dangerous. And why shouldn’t we? They’re scary! But they’re not actually as bad as we often make them out to be. Did you know that black bears are more scavenger than hunter? They have an omnivorous diet. Depending on the season, they find a lot of sustenance in berries, nuts, and fish. But they’ll also take a meal when they find it.
That means they might steal the remainder of a predator’s meal if the predator is dumb enough to leave it alone. They might do the exact same thing of a hiker’s meal if he’s dumb enough to leave it alone! And that’s how bears become dangerous. When they learn to associate humans with food, they become more aggressive. Still, there are only about three deaths per year in all of North America. Doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful how you act around them, but it does mean your fears are overblown.
Pretty much everything else you can think of has killed more humans per year: ants, bees, deer, moose, snakes, spiders, and humans. In fact, humans are the apex predator as far as dangerous animals are concerned. Stay away from them when you go outside and you should have less to worry about.
Pedestrians are also ripe targets for the foul car gone astray, so try to stay off roads. You’ll be much safer in the woods!
That said, accidents do happen. Although data is difficult to ascertain regarding injuries and deaths in the woods or on mountains, we can look to national parks for insight since so many people visit each year. The most deaths in American national parks result from drowning, falling, and motor vehicle accidents (i.e. you’re still safest in the woods).
In the entire National Park System, about 160 people die annually.
Public affairs officer Jeremy Barnum spells it out: “For example, when looking at fatality rates during the 2007-2013 time frame, the average rate is .57 deaths/1 million visits.”
“Overall,” he says, “the risk of being injured or killed while visiting a national park is very low when we look at rates across the NPS.”
So keep on exploring!