Curious Nature: Getting outside is scientifically proven to benefit your body and mind | VailDaily.com
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Curious Nature: Getting outside is scientifically proven to benefit your body and mind

Sonya Hueftle
Walking Mountains Science Center
Next time you head out snowshoeing, maybe try following those animal tracks that wander aimlessly into the woods.
Rick Spitzer | Special to the Daily

During these uncertain times, it is important to remember that getting outside on a daily basis can have a positive effect on our bodies and minds.  Going outside and spending time in nature is something that is available for a lot of people, and in the Eagle Valley we are lucky to have so many possible hikes, walks or sitting spaces in the natural world. Remember, now is the time to explore alone or with one or two other people.  

Many major studies focus on three main aspects related to how being outside in green spaces can benefit the health of individuals. These aspects include the amount of outside time that has been shown to have health benefits, those health benefits and possible reasons. This is especially important now, when our normal forms of exercise at the gym or classes are not presently available, and the added stress of uncertain times can take a toll on our bodies and minds.  

One study, published last year in Scientific Reports, was conducted by Mathew White of the European Center for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. This study found that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health.

After giving daily activity tracking questionnaires to 20,000 people, the study found that people who reported good health were also those who spend at least 120 minutes a week in green spaces. The health benefits include: a reduction in nervous system arousal, lowered blood pressure and stress hormone levels, improved mood and enhanced immune system function.

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Another study gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people in over 20 countries. It looked at how spending time in nature has an impact on our long-term well-being. The study, which was conducted by Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green space is associated with diverse and significant health benefits.

These benefits were similar to those identified in first study, including a decrease in heart rate and stress. One explanation noted in the study might be the exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria that is present in natural areas which may benefit the immune system and reduce inflammation.  

So as a final message, go outside! The benefits are available regardless of age or physical ability. It can be as easy and simple as going for a 10-minute walk two times a day or more, or even sitting outside and listening to the birds chirping. One last study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research noted that just being outside could make people happier.      

Here in the Eagle River Valley, we are lucky to have so many natural spaces available. Feel free to come and enjoy a short walk on the nature loop or Avon Overlook hike located right behind the Walking Mountains Science Center’s campus buildings.

If you are looking for a longer hike, the Buck Creek National Forest Trail starts on our land, and meanders upward for a few miles near the creek. Although Walking Mountains Science Center’s Tang Campus buildings are currently closed, the nature trails are open to the public. 

Wherever you go, please keep a 6-foot minimum distance to other users at all times. Our first responders and medical professionals are currently very busy and they have a lot on their plates already, so please also take it easy and be safe.

Sonya Hueftle is a Naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. When not taking people on snowshoe walks, she enjoys running, skiing in this beautiful valley, or staying inside with a good read and a hot cup of tea.


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