Hike of the Week: Get outside for your mental health, but be responsible | VailDaily.com

Hike of the Week: Get outside for your mental health, but be responsible

By Nathan Boyer-Rechlin
Special to the Daily
Deer caught on the Eagle-Holy Cross wildlife camera. Many seasonal trail closures are meant to help local animal populations experience peaceful migration and reproduction seasons.
White River National Forest | Special to the Daily

Many of us here in the valley do not need to be told about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wilderness. We live here because we experience it on a daily basis. Getting outside, whether we actively acknowledge and plan it, is part of our self-care routine. However, since it is always nice to be proven right, scientific researchers have found a correlation between aerobic exercise — cycling, hiking, running (a study even lists gardening) — and a decrease in anxiety and depression. 

While we’re doing our part to help slow the spread of this pandemic through physical distancing, these activities that brought us to the valley can be even more important than ever. Local ski touring shops have seen online sales spikes and posts on online gear swap pages inquiring about borrowing or buying snowshoes happen daily.

But just because we’re seeing a positive trend in already frequent outdoor recreation, getting outside and reaping the benefits of our wilderness access doesn’t mean that we need to go hard. We don’t need to travel far, ski the biggest lines of the year, or suddenly run every inch of trail in Eagle County.

This is the time of the year where it is more important than ever to respect seasonal trail closures, many of which impact some of the trails that begin to dry out the soonest, including the Minturn Mile and the Avon Preserve trails.

Additionally, the Vail Mountain Rescue Group has asked our community to refrain from backcountry adventures that have the risk of straining our medical resources. They remind us that now is not the time to pick up a new sport or ski that line you’ve been eyeing for the past decade because medical staff are obviously busy and have shifted priorities to the coronavirus

However, luckily, no research study I’ve read has stated that the mental health benefits of getting outside and moving are any more pronounced for a 15-hour dawn-patrol summit mission than they are for a five-minute walk. Even if we are not getting deep into the wilderness, almost all of us have the ability to walk down the street or take a five-minute stroll up the trail behind our house.

When I was a freshman biology student in college, we had a weekly assignment to pick a “solo spot” in a wild place where we would spend 45 minutes every week. As a biology student, the goal was to observe and learn about our new solo spot’s environment not by traveling through it but by simply being in it. Here in the valley, our wilderness is full of wonder. The magic is right here in our backyard, not just miles up in the mountains.

Perhaps this is a time to take a different approach to the mountains and embrace the opportunity to walk five minutes up the trail and slow down. 

Nathan Boyer-Rechlin is the community outreach coordinator for Walking Mountains Science Center. You can reach him at nathanbr@walkingmountains.org.

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