Into the forest, I go

Published 12:15 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2022

My husband and I recently returned from a week at our cabin in the mountains. It was a week full of outdoor activities — hiking, swimming, working around the cabin, and relaxing evenings on the porch wrapped in blankets. It was a wonderful week that went by too quickly. But the rest and recreation were what the doctor ordered and I returned refreshed and ready to go!

 

I LOVE everything about the outdoors. My mantra is: “Into the forest, I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

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I find there’s just something exhilarating about taking a hike, an impromptu dip in a cold mountain stream, or relaxing and listening to the songbirds sing. And the experts agree. Research indicates that the outdoors is nature’s medicine. Spending time outside the confines of our homes and offices can improve our mental, emotional, and physical wellness.

 

Realizing how much my batteries recharged in a week motivated me to look into the benefits of spending time in nature. I learned that a typical workday routine in America includes commuting to the workplace, working, returning home, dinner, a couple of hours of TV, bed, and repeat. As a result, we spend more than ninety percent of our lives indoors. I quickly realized that this, in many ways, is my life Monday through Friday. And by confining myself indoors, I’m missing out on all the health benefits the great outdoors offers.

 

Here are just some of the benefits of spending time outdoors:

 

Happiness – While science has not yet nailed why, studies indicate that spending time outdoors is linked to happiness and positive mood shifts.

 

Memory – Outdoor living improves short-term memory function, concentration, creativity, and mental clarity.

 

Stress – Spending time in the wilderness has a similar effect on our bodies as does meditation. It lowers stress, heart rate, and blood pressure.

 

Energy – According to a University of Rochester study, outdoor activities improved the energy levels of ninety percent of the participants.

 

Vitamin D – Most of us know that sun exposure regulates our levels of Vitamin D, boosting our immune system and fostering healthy bone growth. And regular sun exposure also improves our circadian rhythms making it easier to get a good night’s sleep.

 

Immunity –  Did you know that if you hiked twice daily for three days, you could increase your white blood cell count by forty percent?

 

Spending more time outdoors does not require a significant lifestyle change but a shift in our thinking. If you work from home, consider taking your laptop out onto the porch or starting your day with a fifteen-minute walk. Take a book and go out to the porch swing and read. Dinner or lunch out on the deck is always a fun change of routine. If you give it some thought, you’ll find many ways to increase your time outside. 

 

We live in one of the most nature-rich regions in the country. We have local parks, national forests, historic small towns to explore, and trails for all levels of hikers and bikers. I challenge you to establish new habits that take you out into nature. Fifteen minutes each day is all it will take for you to see differences in your health. Start a journal recording your activities and tracking how your feel, physically and mentally. Spending time outdoors may be the easiest way to improve your well-being and vigor. This research has caused me to consider whether I should try to take a walk on my daily lunch break or eat my lunch outside in our hospital courtyard so that I can catch that moment of the outdoors during my day as well! 

 

In her poem, “In the Breath of the Afternoon,” Eden Elliot captures my soul when I spend time in the grandeur of God’s creation. Here’s an excerpt:

 

The finch chirping a happy sound
The sunlight dances all around
Contentment is so sweetly found
In the wait for the waking moon
The day’s tasks are all complete
A moment of silence now to greet
The coolness soothing aching feet
In the breath of the afternoon

 

If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org.