By Charissa Hipp
June is Great Outdoors Month so head outside and enjoy your natural surroundings as part of the month-long celebration embracing the outdoor spirit of America! Did you know that spending time in nature is good for your health? Luckily, there are countless ways to enjoy the outdoors in Washington County — walking; hiking; biking; backpacking; camping; kayaking; canoeing; fishing; hunting; rock climbing and even hobbies like birdwatching and nature photography. With five national parks, eight state parks and two resource management areas, Washington County is the perfect destination for your next nature experience in the great outdoors!
The health and nature movement is gaining momentum in the United States as more and more scientific evidence points to the overall health benefits of time spent in nature. It’s no secret that being active is good for your mind and body, but outdoor activities improve both mental and physical well-being even more than indoor activities. The best part is, anyone of any age can reap the extraordinary benefits by connecting or reconnecting with nature. Research shows that the closer we are to green space, the less we suffer from cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, mental health, respiratory, neurological and digestive disorders.
For school-age children, time in nature is associated with better cognitive development. Even the elderly can improve their cognition by spending time in a natural setting. Nature can also help those suffering from chronic illnesses and conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Diabetics who spend time in a natural setting are more physically active and demonstrate better blood sugar control while those with hypertension experience improved blood pressure. From a mental health perspective, spending time in nature decreases anxiety and negative thinking, lowering levels of depression and stress. Experiences in nature have even been proven to help those with insomnia, ADHD and bipolar disorder.
So what is it about nature that can provide all these incredible health benefits? A recent study suggests that it could be awe, defined as the sense of being in the presence of something greater than ourselves that fills us with wonder. Research suggests that you don’t need to have extravagant experiences in nature to feel awe or experience benefits. It can be something as ordinary as taking time to enjoy some wildflowers or watching a sunset or wildlife.
Research indicates that true healing occurs when you combine exercise with nature. One thing researchers are trying to pinpoint is just how long you need to spend in nature to reap the health benefits. Some findings show that you can feel a greater sense of calm and experience a significant decrease in the stress hormone cortisol after just 20 minutes of nature. Other findings indicate that significant changes happen in our body and brain after three days in nature, also known as the three-day effect. To reap the most benefits, focus on where you feel most connected to the outdoors rather than a standard experience. And if you’re short on time, 20 minutes in nature is better than none.
Spending time in nature deepens your connection to the natural world and helps you feel fully alive. By removing the distractions of our technology-filled worlds and connecting with the outdoors, you’ll find a deeper connection to your sense of self and improvements in your overall health. Time spent in the outdoors can even serve as a bonding agent for friends, families and communities. Need ideas for a where you can connect to nature? Take a look at all the outdoor recreation opportunities in Washington County: http://www.visithagerstown.com/things-to-do/recreation/parks-trails-waterways.