Written by Axle Ethington @axleethington 

With 2016 being the 100 year anniversary of our National Park Service I thought I'd focus my blog this month on how important nature is to your personal well-being. Flipping through bits of research I was a bit shocked to see that per capita visits to our national parks are dramatically lower than any other point in history since the creation of National Parks in America. One survey shows that only 10 percent of American teenagers spend time outside every day. It's not just teenagers that are lacking in outdoor experience. According to research by the Harvard School of Public Health, American adults spend less time outdoors than they do inside vehicles—less than 5 percent of their day. At a time when disconnection seems to be at an all-time high, evidence about the benefits of nature are pouring in. Nature is more than flowers, trees, wild, animals and bugs. Nature makes us healthier, happier and smarter. It does so much more to the human brain than we can fully comprehend.

Yosemite National Park

With all of the modern technologies and advances in medicine that we have, we have underestimated the effect of being outdoors and the happiness that it brings. Somehow along the way we told ourselves that overly engaging in TV, shopping, texting, Facebook and snapchat are the ways to be happy while strangely disengaging ourselves from the simplest activities, like walking through a park, that make and profound difference in our mental health as well as physical health. Research has shown that people that live closer to green spaces like forests reported less mental stress as well as depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraine. But wait it gets even better. Do you remember as a kid way back in school when we had Earth day? We would get a tree to take home to plant. As it turns out that tree was more than just a gimmick to brainwash us into being tree huggers. That tree in a way was our very own therapist. You see time and time again studies have shown that just being around trees, whether it's at a park, in the front yard, or daydreaming in a grove of old redwoods while relaxing in a hammock they will give you a boost in heart and metabolic health. They lower mortality and fewer stress hormones circulating in the blood have also been connected to living close to tree filled areas.

Two people shining flashlights in a snowcovered plain

Is it the fresh air? Do the colors of nature trigger neurochemicals to be released that are euphoric to us? The answer...well there isn't a clear answer as to why nature seems to have such an overwhelming effect out our mental health. But more and more doctors are turning to prescribing doses of nature to maintain mental health. Nature works by lowering stress. It's been proven that people who have even just a glimpse of trees and grass through a window have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior. Even a short dose of nature will lower stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating. Even pictures of the nature can calm people down and sharpen their performance.

image of a paved road running through snowy woods

My good friend Dr. Brad Foster, a chiropractor and avid outdoorsman believes that because our bodies and minds evolved from nature, we need nature so our bodies can relax in pleasant, natural surroundings like streams, plants and meadows with views of mountains. It's in these places that our minds can finally recharge. He can’t stress enough that recharging doesn’t fully happen when surrounded by traffic and high-rises. Brad is leading the way with a new kind of mindset by encouraging his patients to be “outspired;” his new motto. “While out in the tail end of a storm,” he said “the term just came to me. INspiration doesn't come when you're on the couch sometimes you’ve got to just get out and feel it. Inspiration leads you out of your head, out of your comfort zone, outside... leaving you feeling outspired! let your inspiration OUT!” It was that new motto that gave him the idea to encourage more people to get outside and to reap the benefits of nature. The gym is a great place and according to Brad it's a place that should be regularly used by everyone but the gym alone won't cleanse the mind like a 15 min walk or hike will do in nature. Even just stretching on the trail will lower your stress levels.

man sitting in a hammock inside of a spray painted bus

I’m sure you are reading this and wondering what the point of all this is and just what does it have to do with the 100 year Anniversary of our National Park Service and Grand Trunk. Nature is a necessity that your body and mind crave. As I said before it's more than just flowers, trees, wildlife and bugs. The National Park Service was created with the intent of not only saving and preserving some of America's most inspiring places but they were created as a refuge for people like you and I to be able to go to these places where we can clear our minds. I can’t think of any other place outside of the wild world of nature that allows me clear my mind. Those of you that follow me and my adventures know that I’ll hang a hammock anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Sometimes it's just to prove a point that a hammock doesn’t have to be hung from a couple of trees. But I will say that when I’m lying in my hammock looking through the branches of the trees I find myself in a state of pure relaxation. There is definitely something about the sound of wind blowing through the trees that seems to almost paralyze your body while hanging there. I encourage all of you to get outside and get back to your roots. The roots of humanity. You owe it to yourself to be outspired.

hammock strung between two trees in the desert

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Belinda Neff