Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rx: Take A Walk in the Forest and Call Me in the Morning

Jedediah Smith State Park, CA. Redwood forest.
All photos (except the second) taken by Melissa.

Last August my daughter and I went on a super fun road trip, camping and hiking for nine days in some stunning natural places in Oregon and northern California.

Steens Mt.

We started our trip driving south along scenic coastal Hwy. 101 to northern California’s magnificent redwood forests. From there, we moved to Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta before crossing the border into Oregon to set up camp near stunning Crater Lake. Next, we hiked in rock climbing mecca Smith Rock in central Oregon’s desert and then drove to remote Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon (where our view of stars at night was awe-inspiring). Our final stop was a hot, dusty, beautiful one in central Oregon’s Painted Hills.

On the road. Mt. Shasta.

Crater Lake NP, Oregon.

I hadn’t seen many photos of that road trip until yesterday, when I met my daughter at a coffee shop and scrolled through her pictures on the computer. I remembered how alive, light, happy, and healthy we both felt at the end of our adventure. This was probably due, in part, to our minimalistic food plan for the trip. We ate light, clean, and healthy—no cooking, except to heat water for coffee. (Melissa brought her Chemex and Coava coffee beans!) The daily, vigorous hiking surely contributed to our sense of well-being, too. And just getting out on an adventure—doing something different and fun—must play a part.

Steens Mountain. Overlooking the Alvord Desert.

But simply being out in those pure, natural environments was key to how we felt. There is a huge, growing body of research that demonstrates the physiological, mental, and spiritual benefits of spending time in nature.

Horseshoe Lake at top of Steens Mt.

The research is so convincing that nature therapies have been developed to treat all sorts of ailments, including depression and ADHD. In Japan, there is a thing called “forest bathing”, where people are encouraged to take walks in forests (even brief walks) to reduce stress and enjoy other health benefits. Soldiers (and others) with PTSD are finding help through nature-adventure experiences. Therapists use nature as a treatment for children with ADHD. Nature is becoming a solution for many problems, struggles, and ailments.

Boy Scout Trail, Redwood forest.

Many different types of nature experiences have benefits for mind and body: going near water, walking through forests (or even parks with trees), basking in sunshine, just being in the mountains or the desert, enjoying green spaces (even just seeing them or photos of them!), or simply getting dirty.

My experience alone convinces me that this is valid. I thrive outdoors. It might be true that a small park or group of trees is all that is needed to provide benefits—and this is fantastic for city workers—but I love spending as much time in wild, beautiful places as I can.

Smith Rock State Park.

As I scrolled through photos of last summer’s road trip, I remembered that my daughter and I felt like we were in a cathedral or sanctuary as we strolled through the gigantic redwoods. It was quiet, peaceful, and lovely.

I thought of the many articles I have read detailing the benefits of being in a forest (let alone benefits that come from other types of places), which are many and profound. This is God’s world. He created it. Is it really any surprise that enjoying his creation could have almost miraculous impact on our mind, body and spirit?

Here are some of the of the scientifically validated benefits of walking in forests or a park with trees. (To maintain the benefits, one should get outside routinely.):

It reduces depression.
It increases immunity.
It reduces general fatigue.
It increases energy.
It lowers a tendency toward morbid rumination (dwelling on the negative aspects of life).
It clarifies the mind and reduces confusion.
It reduces stress and anxiety.
It elevates mood.
It lowers blood pressure.
It increases ability to focus.
It greatly improves ADHD.
It accelerates recovery (from surgery or illness), even when there is simply a green view.
It improves sleep.
It reduces anger.
It increases creativity.

Doesn’t this make you want to get outside right now? Go on. You’ll be glad you did.


  1. Am going for a stroll in the garden RIGHT now and will think of you!
    even if it is windy here on the Oregon coast~
    your friend,
    Outdoor Laur =)

  2. Haha. That's great! I wish I was in your lovely garden with you. Endure that crazy north wind. :) I always think of a quote I read somewhere: "The north wind made the Vikings." So, I guess it builds character, at least!

    Talk with you soon!

  3. Oh, Susan...I am so happy to see you blogging again! I look forward to reading regularly. :-) I thought this was a good post to comment on because it applies to what I am doing now that our homeschooling days are over. I ended up going back to school, got my masters in special ed, and now teach elementary special ed. I really love working with my kiddos. This summer, I determined that I wanted to incorporate more outdoor time. I work at an urban STEM (magnet) school that has beautiful grounds. Many of my students have ADHD, and I too have read about the benefits for these kids. Anyway...again, I'm so happy to be back in touch!

  4. Hello Silvana! I'm so happy to see YOU again! I love what you are doing! I worked in a special ed classroom for two years (not as a teacher), and I fell in love with those kids. So awesome! Being outside is just the best for so many reasons, isn't it? I remember that your family loved to get out and hike, correct? Thanks for saying hi, Silvana!

  5. Yes, so you understand where I'm coming from. I feel greatly priviledged to work with my kids. And, to update, we had our first outdoor nature walk yesterday. It was so great to see the kids come alive and interact with nature. I got them all nature journals. Our focus was on the sense of touch. They wandered around our beautiful school courtyard feeling various things--leaves, rocks, stems, etc. Then they wrote a simple sentence about it and drew a picture. I think we all loved every minute of it.

  6. Oh, and yes...our family still spends quite a lot of time outdoors hiking. :-)

  7. Sweet, Silvana! I love that you are doing this! I can't think of anything that could be better. I know you would be a fantastic teacher of these special kids. And I'm glad your family still loves the outdoors, too. (So do we.) :)