It was 1990. I was a grad student at the University of Western Ontario in the Physical Education program. For one of my courses, I had to do a research paper on Canadian sport or fitness policy, and I chose ParticipAction. I remember being intrigued by the history, the social condition (declining rates of physical activity among Canadians) and the methods used by health promotors and social marketers to try getting people more active.
At some level, I think I knew this was what I wanted to focus on for my career. Thirty years later, I look back and see that there have been a lot of twists and turns in my work life that have had me fully immersed in the area of health promotion, on the fringe and, at times, pretty far removed from it.
Through Kind Living, and as we continue to build Up and Out, I see I am returning to and expanding on those roots. I still have a strong desire to help in some modest and sustainable way to influence change around physical activity levels and healthy living in general. As tends to happen over time, the lens has come into sharper focus about the areas I see being the most healthful and the ones that interest me the most: trails/forests, running/hiking/walking/skiing, and dogs.
Recently, there was fair bit of media coverage dedicated to family physicians from Shetland, Scotland ‘prescribing’ time in nature for their patients. Although an article suggested it was the first place in the world doing this, I believe there have been pockets in Canada and the US where physicians have been doing this for some time. But it doesn’t matter who was first; what matters is that scientists are discovering and demonstrating the real and measurable mental and physical health benefits we derive from spending time in the woods.
Among the more acknowledged benefits are:
- Improvements to short-term memory
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Reduced levels of inflammation
- Increase energy levels
- May improve/preserve vision
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved focus and creativity
- Improved immune system function
- Increased longevity
The growing body of evidence is telling us what many have known intuitively for years – if not millennia – being active in a natural environment with few distractions is good for your body, your mind and your soul.