BY VICTORIA WALSH
“You’ve complained the entire ascent but the thing is you’re actually really strong, you’re supposed to be our leader, and we are not quitting, do you hear me?!?!” We were two small groups of inexperienced hikers with our skilled guides making our way up to the top of Mt Rhondda against some bitter weather. Tethered together, we were clearly either all making the ascent or none of us would and we’d return to base camp.
My 30-something yr old youth leader looked at me wide-eyed.
“Now, let’s go,” I said grabbing her hand in a huff, “we are going to do this – together dammit”.
Apparently, I’ve always been bossy.
In that moment, fueled with determination, we hiked to the peak foot by foot (she thanked me afterwards). Every step was gruelling. This was our moment though, our moment to achieve something daring and adventurous. Against us was the fact that we were exhausted, not used to the elevation, and running out of daylight. This was my first ever mountain peak and she was a stunner! Red-faced, full of sweat, and looking down at the peaks and glacier below was awe-inspiring. I was 17 years old and that moment felt like the beginning of everything.
We felt alive.
“The earth has music for those that listen.” – William Shakespeare
Something clicked that summer, it was the beginning of my confidence and constant yearning for the outdoors. Whether it was watching the sun set over the alpine or as simple as stepping out to view the stars in the evening, I knew there was something magical and nurturing about nature.
Fast forward to today and that simple truth remains yet the sad state of society is that we do not get enough time outdoors. Myself included. Which is ridiculous right?! The benefits are clear yet that perfect balance to our oh-so-busy lives sometimes eludes us.
Just. Go. Outside.
Yes, even in the winter. Maybe even especially in the winter! Being from Ontario (land of the ticks, mosquitoes, and blackflies) winter is quickly becoming my favourite season to get outside and hike or snowshoe. All it takes is the right gear and a good attitude.
If you need more reasons to take a hike, check these out:
- It boosts our creative thinking and problem-solving skills while also helping reduce mental fatigue.1
- Hiking fights cognitive decline as one study illustrates how exercise “improves brain structure and function”.2 If this is the case I plan on entering my 80s as a genius, who’s with me?
- With stress and anxiety being at record highs, exercising outdoors is the perfect stress buster and well-being booster! A research team dedicated to years of study between nature and our mental health found that there is “significant improvements in participant mental well-being, social inclusion and connection to nature” by a person’s proximity to green space and increased time outdoors.3
- It may surprise you how much a role model you’ll become by posting your outdoor time on social media, bringing friends/family, and talking about it in general. The positive influence on others is just one of the surprising results I’ve had from hiking this last year!
- It gives your eyes and mind a welcomed break and helps balance screen time.
- Getting outside exposes you to some much-needed vitamin D and fresh air in the winter, two key factors in beating the winter blues.
- Consider it a form of active mediation. Hiking, ladies and gentlemen, is not only gaining in popularity but frankly is the new yoga.4,5
Convinced yet? Mountain escapes are lovely, but the reality is that you can reap the health benefits of nature therapy simply by taking a walk around your local green space after supper. No matter your personality or fitness level, there are ways to get outside more often!
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey
Here are some personality suited life hacks to fit a little more outdoor time into your life:
The Free Spirit: I’m pretty much the anti-planning type, so if this resonates with you try my little trick of keeping a hiking ‘go bag’ duffle in the car at all times. This makes it easy to try a local trail after work, before work, or to enjoy a spur of the moment adventures on the weekend.
The necessities include; Pranin Organic Smoothie Boosters, electrolytes, snacks, water bottle, warm layers, extra socks, hikers, gators, trekking poles, mini first aid kit with an emergency blanket, headlamp, thermal jacket, maps, cell charging pack.
The Scheduling Pro: This one is for all my agenda lovers! Yes, you fabulous superhumans that have organization down to a science. Search out your local hiking club and take a look for scheduled hikes that you can join. Some clubs offer them weekly or you can create your own once a week hike time and invite friends and family to join. You can also choose to take five minutes every morning to meditate outside if possible or enjoy a stroll around the block at night.
Another tip is to cluster your weekly errands so that you can free up the time to spend outdoors stress-free.
The Social Butterflies: Why not make it a standing date with friends to go hiking? Better yet, change the social dynamic by swamping out some indoors dates with outdoor ones! Who says getting together with friends always has to be over food or coffee? Grab that coffee to go and catch up on the trails! You’ll be amazed at how the culture (and health) of your social circle will change.
The Goal Getters: Find that shiny goal that will have you getting outdoors more often. Whether it’s an app that tracks your steps or a local race or sign up for an online challenge – commit to it! Last year, and again this year, I signed up for the 52 Hike Challenge and it was exactly the push I needed. You might just surprise yourself! I certainly found the effects of taking a hiking challenge surprising, to say the least. There are also other exciting goals like geocaching, bird watching, nature clubs, mountain peaks, or trail races!
However you spin it, there is no denying that getting out to enjoy nature is simply good for our overall health. For myself, it’s that feeling of awe and being alive that fuels my fresh air adventures, I’m constantly chasing and marvelling in it! The fact that it is a healthy pursuit is simply an added bonus.
Victoria Walsh is the voice behind Girl Gone Good, a little blog that grew out of the desire to embrace better health and explore the world in earnest. As a military veteran, she loved the adventurous life full of challenges, travel, and skydiving. Trading her combats boots for hikers, a love for mountains, wellness, and a small smoothie obsession emerged. She is currently earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Ottawa. Make sure to follow Vickie on Instagram!