Something as simple as a walk in the woods is what this particular chiropractor prescribes.
“Dida! I hear da woons!”
My son whispered this to me from my side. It was late August of last year. Edwin, 6, Estelle, 4, and I were tent camping next to Crystal Lake, just outside of Minocqua, in the North Woods of Wisconsin. Out on Crystal Lake we could hear the sound of two loons as if they were swimming right next to us. I had played recordings of loons for the kids before we left for that camping trip. They were intrigued by the black and white feathers, the red eyes, and of course, by that mildly haunting call. Earlier that day while floating around on the lake, we ended up about 20 yards away from those same loons while they came up occasionally from their fishing trips under the water.
Hearing Edwin whisper those words, with that enthusiasm, is a memory I’ll never forget!
I had grown up camping around Minocqua and that very same Crystal Lake. To take the kids back up there last summer was something that I had been planning for over a year. It was a tremendous trip, and included horseback riding, and eating at some of my favorite places from when I was growing up, and was made even better by the fact my parents joined us for a couple of the days up there, although their camping days are over. They had a motel room, which I didn’t mind, as it made bath time a lot easier!
As I mentioned, I’ll never forget those moments, and I have a feeling they left a lasting impression on Edwin and Estelle as well.
As the days continue to get longer, I have found myself waking up to the sound of a cardinal outside our bedroom window, and having a bit more energy as I get my day started. Here in the northern Midwest we need to take advantage of the daylight as the sun rises earlier and sets later each day. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we are living in the Arctic Circle. But those winters can be long and cold and dreary here.
I’m planning to return to Crystal Lake to camp with the kids again this August. As spring continues to develop I find myself flipping forward on the calendar and looking at all of the adventures yet to come this summer, from trail races to camping trips, to simply having a refreshment on a deck outside a restaurant nearby.
I think it’s essential that we all scratch out some time in our busy daily schedules to spend time outside in nature. A growing and varied body of research is showing just how and why spending time in the natural world might have beneficial effects on our health. One of the first and most well-known studies, published in Science in 1984, found that patients recovering from surgery in rooms with a window facing a natural setting had shorter hospital stays and took less pain medicine than did patients whose window faced a brick wall. Since then, researchers have asked whether the presence of trees influences people’s sense of safety in inner-city neighborhoods; explored how gardening might improve quality of life for people with disabilities; and used physiolgical measures to test for restorative effects of natural environments. These results suggest that time spent in nature improves human health.
Another recent study from Japan looked at blood pressure and other specific physiological markers before and after study subjects took walks in a forest and in an urban environment. The study’s sample size is small (16 male subjects) and the time scale short (effects were measured after one day trip to the forest and one to the city) but the results suggest that the forest trip had positive effects on health. Subjects’ blood pressure measured in the forest was significantly lower when compared to measurements taken in the city. Levels of the stress hormone noradrenaline were also significantly lower. And blood levels of the adrenal hormone dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) and of adiponectin, a hormone secreted by fat tissue, were higher after the forest walk but not the urban walk. The authors note that DHEA-S may contribute to heart health, among other benefits, and that lower levels of adiponectin are associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes.
See? Perhaps we are too quick to look to a pill for “treatment” of these ailments. Something as simple as “A Walk In The Woods” is what this particular chiropractor prescribes!
The days are getting longer and soon enough—only a couple months from now—we will hit the longest day of the year. And then it starts going the other way again. So get outside! Make some memories! Explore! Bring your kids! Bring your parents! Spring and summer in Wisconsin is truly a treasure that is good for the soul, good for your health.
Enjoy the state and county parks, explore some trails, go get some sand between your toes at a beach. Quite simply, get outside! You might just hear some loons in the middle of the night.
(The contents of this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional health care advice. Do not use the information in this column for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition.)