Happy New Year! Did you make your New Year’s resolution yet? We often use this holiday as an opportunity to recommit to living a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, overzealous plans for dieting and gym memberships quickly turn into abandoned resolutions. Want a resolution you can commit to? Plan to spend more time in nature! There is an ever-increasing amount of research that provides evidence of the myriad of mental, physical, and emotional health benefits of spending time in nature.
Time spent outdoors increases/enhances:
- Energy levels
- Your mood & self-esteem
- Vitamin D levels
- Physical activity/calories burned
- Mobility in aging populations
- Overall feelings of positivity
- Impulse control
- Academic performance
- Feelings of happiness
- Immune system function
- Memory function & ability to focus
- Natural circadian rhythms (responsible for regulating sleep)
- Critical thinking skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Workout intensity (exercising outdoors is more physically demanding on the body)
- Social skills/relationships
- Motor skill development
- Enthusiasm/engagement for learning
Time spent outdoors decreases:
- Stress, anxiety, & depression
- Seasonal allergies
- Inflammation (the bad kind that contributes to autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, & cancer)
- Risk of eye conditions such as myopia, computer vision syndrome, & dry eye syndrome
- Risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, hip fractures, & pregnancy complications
- Aching bones in aging populations
- ADD/ADHD symptoms
- Disruptive behaviors
- Blood pressure & heart rate
- Fatigue & sleep disturbances/insomnia
The best benefit? Getting outdoors and into nature is often free or very low in cost. We are very fortunate to call Minnesota our home. Our state has a high percentage of publicly owned land, providing a multitude of outlets into nature! The Minnesota DNR manages over 5.5 million acres in 67 state parks, 9 recreation areas, and numerous state forests, wildlife management areas, scenic and natural areas, and more. As Minnesotans, we have access to over 1,234 miles of state trails! Federal lands in Minnesota provide more public land resources for us to explore, including Voyageur’s National Park, Superior National Forest (including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area), the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), the national North Country Trail, national monuments and more. In addition, Minneapolis, followed by Saint Paul, has consistently been ranked the number one city in America for ease of access to outdoor/green space!
Committing to the outdoors is something that will look different for everyone. You can start whenever you want (though considering spring is months away, winter would be preferable), however you want, at whatever level is the best fit for you! If the outdoors is new to you – perhaps simply taking a 15-minute hike in nature is the place to start. Once that feels comfortable, build up from there – a 30-minute walk, a 30-minute walk twice a week, etc. If nature is a familiar setting for you, challenge yourself to something new! Have you tried fat-tire biking? What about going on a snowshoe snow-fari? The opportunities for exploration are endless!
Here are some resources that may be helpful!
- Find a State Park in Minnesota
- Find a State Park in another state
- MN DNR’s Outdoor Winter Activities Guide
- MN DNR’s Event Calendar
- Check out the Outdoor & Nature section of Explore Minnesota
- Want to spend time outdoors, but don’t want to do it alone? Consider starting a nature club for families in your area!
- List of Nature Centers in Minnesota – often have trails open to the public & naturalist programming!
- For more local options, check out things to do in:
I know the cold temperatures and short days of winter can be a daunting factor to overcome. Don’t let these small obstacles thwart your New Year’s resolution! As the saying goes, “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing”. So bundle up and get outside! In the winter, I leave for work before the first light and head home from the office at sunset. As a result, I’ve learned to love walking on cold winter nights with my furry companion.
A walk in the neighborhood woods in winter can be just as thrilling as other excursions. The cold, fresh air rejuvenates your lungs and awakens your senses; your eyes adjust to the darkness and you find you can see quite well with the moon’s reflection off the snow; your ears strain to hear far-off sounds drowned out in busier months – the hooting of an owl, the distant bark of a dog, or the cracking of trees as they freeze. Our current snow conditions add the thrilling adventure of tracking to your night hike! Click on the photos below to find out what made the tracks. 🙂
So don’t miss the opportunity to begin the year the right way… outside! Bundle up and go! We’ll see you out there!