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Enjoying the Great Outdoors this Summer

by in brain health, immune health, naturopathic medicine June 30, 2021

Japanese researchers have shown that being out in nature (what is sometimes referred to as “forest bathing”) improves relaxation and reduces stress. A busy urban environment, which many of us spend most of our days soaking in, has exactly the opposite effects; it can stimulate the fear and anxiety centers in the brain, making you feel more worried and out of control.

That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of your days outside the office and opt for a natural environment, versus the couch.

Spending more time outdoors may also lead to you adopting a “greener” lifestyle and a friendlier relationship with the environment. Such is the great importance of participating in activities which promote time in nature, not only for your health but also for the earth’s as well.

Take caution though, nature has powerful side effects: it may make you slow down, experience bouts of spontaneous euphoria, elevate your mood, improve your sleep, and help you get along better with others.

PHYSICAL HEALTH

We all know the great importance of maintaining physical health through movement and staying active. Countless medical benefits are proffered through physical activity that go beyond the obvious benefit of weight maintenance and mitigation. Moving your body regularly improves cardiac, respiratory, and even mental-emotional functions (including sleep) – all of which prevent disease development. All outdoor activity requires physical movement, so no matter if you’re walking your dog at the park, trekking a mountain, gardening, camping, or enjoying a picnic, you are out about and most importantly, you are moving!

MENTAL HEALTH

Indoor exercise is great, but the benefits of improved mood and behavior offered by the outdoors is vital to our well-being. Spending time in nature has been considered the mental reset button, which allows you to de-stress and decompress from daily life worries and has been shown to improve memory. The lack of noise pollution found in nature also provides a much-needed quiet for the senses.

FAMILY BONDING

Camping and other outdoor activities are some of the best options for intergenerational fun; the whole team can unplug and reconnect! Affirming these bonds also aids in the hindrance of disease for everyone. Research has also demonstrated that going for a walk while discussing difficult topics with another person actually makes the conversation easier. The reason for this is that walking stimulates the brain to make more serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which make us feel happier, more receptive to listening, and more interested in conversation with others.

IMMUNE WELLNESS

Outdoor recreation isn’t just fun and energetic, it actually improves immunity to contagious disease and reduces autoimmune conditions. A myriad of researchers have reported that the forest environment gives a boost to human natural killer (NK) cells – these are heavy-duty immune cells that kill off cancer cells, viruses and bacteria, and pretty much any other threat to our immune system. The research shows that spending time in nature increases the overall number of natural killer cells, while also enhancing natural killer cell activity and intracellular anti-cancer proteins in our white blood cells (lymphocytes). The data also shows that the increased NK cell activity lasts for more than 7 days after trips to forests! The immense power that is provided through time in nature is astounding and worth a weekend getaway to the mountains.

PRODUCTIVITY

Engaging in outdoor activities regularly helps you to be relaxed and engaged at the same time. This allows you to deal smartly with any stressful situations and increase productivity in all areas of life, be it at home, with your friends, or in the workplace. Here’s a productivity hack: take a 20-30 min walk in the morning before getting your day started, or plan for weekend family outings that meet your comfort and capacity!

SOME FUN WAYS TO ENJOY THESE SUMMER DAYZZZZ

HIKING

Hiking is a great option for nearly anyone. Colorado is plentiful in hiking trails and they exist at every imaginable skill level, some even have accessibility accommodations. I love using the All Trails phone app to find new adventures for Rudy and our family. You don’t have to scale a 14ner to gain the benefits of trekking through the great outdoors.

MOUNTAIN BIKING

For those who enjoy a rush and aren’t keen on walking the whole way, mountain biking may peak your interest. Now before you get anxious imagining some hard and winding path with jumps and hurdles, remember that there are countless options at all levels of intensity and skill. Unlike plodding on a treadmill or stair-stepper, mountain biking is a dynamic activity that requires the rider to constantly adjust to varying terrain, pitch, and elevation. Staying steady and secure on a mountain bike not only keeps you from crashing but strengthens neural pathways in your brain and body and reinforces muscle memory. Balance and coordination requires the combined resources of the brain, senses, muscles and the nervous system. Keeping these systems active as we get older staves off disability from aging and reduces the risk of injury from falls.

PADDLE BOARDING

Stand Up Paddle Boarding has taken the public by storm over the past few years (James and I both got our first boards this year and we go every weekend). This is probably because it is so accessible to nearly everyone, even those who think they don’t have the balance and skill to do so. There are numerous types of paddle boards available for everyBODY (and every doggo), along with lessons and affordable rentals at almost every reservoir. Did you know that with the right paddle technique, your core is doing most of the work — instead of your arms? Every time you complete a stroke, your abdominal muscles contract like a mini-crunch.

Low impact exercises like paddle boarding do wonders for heart health. Paddling even just fifteen minutes per day will improve your cardiovascular system.  If you’re mulling over an important decision, you might find it helpful to go for a paddle and see if the disconnect from land helps you arrive at the right choice.

Paddle boarding is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. There are countless websites, clubs, and communities where you can make friends and go out on paddle boarding excursions with like-minded people.

PLAYING SAFELY

Whether your flavor is hiking, camping, or canoeing, make sure you’re properly equipped for a good time – you don’t want to have to cut your fun short because you run out of water or get injured. Always pack a lot of water and electrolytes, some healthy snacks (I like hard-boiled eggs, oranges, and jerky), an updated first aid kit, and some outdoor survival gear (like a pocket knife). You never know where the roads might take you and it’s better to be over-prepared. And while there is peace in solitary outings, always make sure someone knows where you are. Consider going with a group as well, as this helps you advance your skills in teamwork and communication.

Nature itself teaches us about problem-solving techniques, ethics, values, cooperation, and most importantly, empathy.

Go get out there and explore the great outdoors! Happy adventuring!