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By Pattie Beaven

Spring is in the air and now is the perfect time to go outdoors. Did you know getting outdoors is not only good for our health, but good for the planet? Conservation Fitness is all about working hard to improve our well-being while having a positive impact on the environment, and there is no better way to better both ourselves and the planet than with the concept of “Experience Nature”.

The idea of getting outdoors for our health has many applications. You can get outdoors for leisure activities, such as fishing (Clyde), or gardening. Outdoor meditation has huge mental and physical benefits. Recreational activities like hiking, biking, and mountain climbing (felix) make getting outdoors fun and exciting. If you are an adrenaline junkie, you will get no better fix than being outdoors- snow skiing, rafting, SCUBA diving, rock climbing, and even cliff diving or bungee jumping, which I don’t recommend and you could not pay me enough money to try myself, but to each their own.

The benefits of getting outdoors are numerous , but none are more beneficial than vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for bone density and calcium absorption, and helps prevent cancer and depression. Here’s the thing. We can achieve a basic level of vitamin D through dietary methods of eating dairy, mushrooms, and salmon, and taking vitamin D supplements. Most supplements will give you about 1000 IU.  Not too shabby, until you realize you  can absorb over 10,000 IU by simply hanging out in the sun for ten to fifteen minutes. For this reason, many experts affectionately refer to vitamin D as Vitamin Nature.

There have also been studies that show spending time in a natural environment helps us focus. In studies among children, researchers suggest playing outside seems alleviate symptoms of ADD and ADHD. In adults, participants in studies have shown improved mental functions just from taking daily nature walks, as opposed to participants who walked on a treadmill inside. There has even been research to show meditating in fresh air provides healthier benefits than meditating inside. Even exercising improves when they take place outdoors. Everything from our breathing to our sleep improves dramatically by experiencing nature.

All these benefits should get you ready to run (not walk, but run) out the door and enjoy a glorious day in the woods, or the beach. But, WAIT THERE’S MORE!  By going outdoors, whether it’s gardening, working out in the park, or enjoying a family hike in the woods- you will benefit your health and well-being, and, SAVE THE PLANET!

How is that possible? Let me count the ways! There are two main ways getting outdoors for our health will also benefit the planet. The first is indirect, or passive conservation. These are the inspired by nature type of actions. They often influence the other type of action, direct and active conservation. Both are powerful and both make a significant difference in the health and well-being of the planet.

Let’s look at an easy activity to get us healthy and has obvious benefits for the planet. How many times do we drive our car for something we could easily walk, run, or even bike to our destination? Walking is one of the best exercises we can do for ourselves, no matter what our fitness level is. It acts as a meditative habit. We are often able to clear our heads while burning off calories. But walking also helps combat climate change. The average American can save up to a pound of CO2 for every mile they don’t drive. That’s a pretty powerful motivator!

But what about that pleasurable hike in the woods? How does activity, even with obvious fitness benefits, help save the earth? Let me explain with my own story.

When I was a wee little lass, about 8 years old, my parents took me on a cruise to the Bahamas. My mom liked to joke that I was part mermaid because even before then, when I was 4, I was an instant swimmer. I loved dolphins and aquatic animals, so a snorkel expedition seemed like a fun idea while visiting the Bahamas. It was the first time I had ever snorkeled, but as soon as I had my mask on, and placed the snorkel in my mouth, my face unhesitantly went into the ocean. The only thing my mom could hear was a muffled “OH BOY!” as I took off like, well, a fish. I don’t know how long I stayed in the water. The next thing I remember was hearing the ship’s whistle blow, a final warning to get onboard or get left behind. Don’t worry, we didn’t miss the boat, but from that moment on, all I wanted was to be in the water.

While I had a deep passion for the ocean and all life in it, we didn’t exactly live near the ocean growing up. That didn’t stop me from starting campaigns with my friends and relatives to snip six-pack rings, buy dolphin safe tuna, participate in river clean-ups, move to reusable canvas bags over plastic bags (in South Carolina 30 years ago, this was a HUGE DEAL).

As I got older, I turned my passion for marine life into a career, working to rescue and rehabilitate manatees and other marine mammals, and educating visitors of ocean conservation issues. Even today, I am a volunteer beach naturalist, and I hope to spark that passion in the young people I meet in the tidepools.

When we take a walk in the woods, or fly a kite at the beach, or climb mountains, we deepen our love and passion for that place which is special to us. The more we appreciate nature, the more we fight to protect it. We may donate money to a cause, or volunteer to keep it clean. We may find a higher calling to share our experience with others and inspire them to connect to the earth in a healthy way.

As the conservationist Baba Dioum once said “For in the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” So now, my teaching is done, and it is up to all of you to take the next step. I hope it is a step outside.

 

 

 

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