Get outside to feel better

I’ve never
seen my children so happy than during summer vacation. Taking strolls through
the woods on hiking trails, trekking along rivers and lakes, fishing,
bicycling, swimming, shooting sports, archery, paddleboarding and kayaking are some
of the outdoor activities they especially enjoy partaking in during the summer
months. Our eldest daughter’s birthday is near Christmas, and getting her
friends together for celebration is difficult to schedule around holiday family
happenings. So, we decided to arrange a half-birthday party in late June this
year and invited all of her close friends to join in some merriment
out-of-doors. The smiles on those kids’ faces reflect the carefree elation many
experience when spending time outdoors. For whatever reasons, nature just makes
us feel good.

The
American Heart Association says that spending time in nature can help relieve
stress and anxiety, improve your mood and boost feelings of happiness and
wellbeing. We all have stress of some level in our lives, no matter how hard we
try to manage it or ignore it, it’s there. We have schedules to maintain,
deadlines to meet, and expectations resonating and weighing on our
consciousness constantly. Now, I am no mental health professional, but if
you’re feeling a tinge of the blues or overwhelmed as some of us do from time
to time, then nature may just be the best prescription for what ails you.

When I
start feeling disconnected, I ask myself, “How much time have you spent in
nature lately?” We live in the information age, when we can set our
thermostats, order dinner and stream movies and television shows right from the
comfort and security of our own homes, oftentimes without having to even leave our
couches. Even though we are located in the beautiful Berkshires with gorgeous
mountain views, breathtaking sunsets and access to an abundance of outdoor
activities, those of us who reside here year-round can take all that surrounds
us for granted.

Numerous
scientific studies have shown that spending time in nature benefits our mental,
physical and emotional health. Spending time outside is good for all of us. A
recent study conducted in England published in the journal Scientific Reports found that spending two hours per week in nature
(i.e. woodland, park, and beach) gives a positive boost to health and wellbeing
to people of all ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic status. The New
York State Department of Environmental Conservation states that exposure to
forests and trees boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces
stress, improves mood, increases ability to focus, accelerates recovery from
surgery or illness, increases energy level and improves sleep. They reference a
plethora of research studies casting light on how spending time outdoors and in
forests makes us healthier.

In 1982,
the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries coined a term for these
benefits named shinrin-yoku, meaning taking in nature’s atmosphere or “forest
bathing.” Whatever you call it – forest-bathing, ecotherapy, mindfulness in
nature, vitamin N, green time or the wilderness cure – people benefit from
journeying into natural spaces. You can add a daily walk on a local hiking
trail to your regime, go on a bike ride instead of hitting the gym for your
cardio, or skip the big resort for your next vacation and go camping instead.
Taking time to peacefully reflect while sitting on a park bench or lazily
sunbathe on a sandy beach can help stimulate our senses in ways we never
imagined.

Again, I
am not a medical professional, and if you suffer from serious illness be sure
to consult with your doctor before engaging in any activity. But I have
experienced some of the previous mentioned benefits from being outside in
nature for periods of time. So, the next time you’re feeling a little off,
anxious, or down-in-the-dumps, get out to feel better.

Stephanie DuPont is on the board of directors for the Lee
Sportsmen’s Association and a columnist for the Berkshire Record. You can
contact her at dupontfam5@gmail.com.

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