This has been a long pandemic full of adjustments, stressors, and challenges we never thought we’d face in our lifetimes. With recreation centers, malls and popular gathering spaces closed for much of the year, many of us discovered places to explore and discover healthy outlets in the great outdoors. For many, favorite trails became crowded and new secret spots were sought. For us in public land management, it hit home that getting outside for some “fresh air” meant escaping the pressures of the built environment.
A Growing Body of Research
There happens to be something behind “feeling good” outdoors. Scientists have been diving deeper into how our very species needs nature to thrive. Any Google search of the health benefits of nature will bring results demonstrating how being in nature:
- Decreases stress and anxiety
- Makes you happier
- Helps us be kinder and promotes pro-social behaviors
- Provides a wealth of positive physiological and neurological responses to natural environments.
These are just a few examples out of the flood of research on the benefits of being in nature. At City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP), we’re paying attention and have some tips for how we can all enhance our well-being and happiness through a deeper connection with local nature.
Maximizing Time Outdoors
While we could simply visit a local park bench or natural area and still reap the benefits of local nature, there are also simple things we can do to amplify these benefits. Here, OSMP wanted to provide some of our favorite tips from many of our recreation wellness programs that can greatly enhance an outdoor experience and promote a healthier you.
- Slow down: Many times, when we are in public lands, we search for the best hike or viewpoint and repeat someone else’s experience. We can easily forget to give ourselves permission to connect with a place if we are walking through or over it. See if you can make a point to sit and relax for at least 15-20 minutes and allow the ecosystem around you to adjust to your presence. It’s amazing what you may start noticing.
- Explore new trails and corners of your community: Visiting and navigating a new place can be both thrilling and intimidating, but safely experiencing these emotions is incredibly beneficial to your health. Just think about the confidence and resiliency you can build. Explore some new trails and trailheads. Go with friends and build trust and connection. Feeling like you want to go big? Try the Boulder OSMP trail challenge.
- Discover what’s at your feet: Human beings were meant to track, forage, and explore. Our brains evolved to make us survival rock stars. Check out OSMP’s wildflower or geology guide and see if you can’t learn about what flower gives Earl Gray tea its special flavor or facts about the Flatirons as an ancient sea bed.
- Give Back: Volunteering can be a great way to meet some amazing people and give yourself tangible success. Discover volunteer opportunities with OSMP.
A Guided Experience
For many years, OSMP has been collaborating with Boulder Community Health (BCH) and other organizations in the Boulder community to support community members’ emotional and physical health outdoors. Many of these programs work with:
- Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers
- People experiencing disabilities
- Cancer survivors
- Addiction and recovery (more programs coming soon through the BCH PILLAR Program)
- The healthcare community and those experiencing compassion fatigue
- Many marginalized and underrepresented community members
For many of us, the best part of our jobs is when they see people open up and share awe-inspiring moments together. Some of the best moments come when someone says, “I’ve walked past this tree a hundred times, but never truly noticed it.” Or when someone in early recovery expresses how they didn’t truly know how relaxation felt while sober, until a healing experience in the forest. From what we see, the more we can deeply connect with the outdoors, the healthier a community we can be. We need each other. We need our wild kin.
The tips we shared and many more can be discovered on hikes and programs that OSMP and BCH offer for the Boulder community. To learn more, visit NatureHikes.org for all OSMP public programs, but also keep an eye out for exclusive wellness offerings through BCH.
Don’t forget: Remember to recreate safely this summer! See you on the trails.