Since Earth Day just passed you are probably thinking about ways you can “go green” to reduce your impact on the environment. Many of these choices are also good for your health. For example, choosing food from local farms is associated with fewer “food miles” and a lower environmental footprint. It is also likely to be picked at the peak of freshness, meaning it is richer in nutrients, not to mention flavor. Walking or biking instead of driving is another way to protect the environment while you protect your health.
When it comes to exercise, you can literally “go green.” Being active outdoors in nature leads to enhanced feelings of energy, improved mood, and diminished fatigue, anxiety, and anger compared to similar activity conducted indoors. Additionally, some research suggests that outdoor activity may improve attention and productivity in adults and children. Even though the physical, mental, and social benefits of activity in a natural environment are well established, most recommendations just focus on activity, not where it is done. Making the outdoors your destination for activities for you and your family is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.
The National Park Prescription (Park Rx) Initiative is designed to encourage people to make the outdoors their destination for exercise and family activities. In fact, April 24th was National Park Rx Day. The idea is to promote access to and use of parks, trails, and other green spaces and highlight the health, environmental, social, and economic benefits of having these resources in our communities. The benefits of parks can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age or ability, so enhancing public lands should be a high priority.
This isn’t new of course, but it’s nice to have a reminder. At playgrounds you commonly see as many children playing in the trees that surround the swings, slides, and monkey bars as you see on the playground equipment. Grassy areas serve as picnic spots, impromptu sports fields, and places to run and play. Trails through the woods offer a place to hike and bike as well as trees to explore and climb. Lakes, rivers, and streams (called water trails) are perfect for rowing, paddling, and swimming. And many public parks and green spaces have paved trails so that people of all ages in strollers or wheelchairs can enjoy the outdoors.
Fortunately, there many excellent parks and natural areas to explore in the Aiken area. Aiken State Park, several county and city parks, and neighborhood playgrounds make it easy to find a place to be active outdoors. There is no better place to experience nature than the vast Hitchcock Woods, located right in the heart of Aiken. Community organizations like the GAIT Foundation are dedicated to expanding access to natural areas for all types of outdoor activates. This makes it easy to find a place to walk, run, bike, hike, climb, swim, paddle, push, or ride.
It also makes it easy to follow the Park Rx. Being active is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health and wellbeing. Activity in a natural environment has additional physical, mental, and social health benefits. Share these benefits with others by planning outdoor activities with your family and friends. For maximum effect, you should do this as often as possible—everyday is best. And it doesn’t need to be a day long excursion. Even taking the dog for a short walk, playing outside with the kids, or doing yard work are good ways to reap the benefits of being active outdoors.
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