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Winter in the forest

Reconnect Through Exercise

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”   –John Muir-


I much prefer exercising outdoors to working out in a gym.  I understand why an athlete would need to do spinning in a gym or in their basement in wintertime to keep up his or her performance level.  But I am mystified as to why anyone would choose to ride a bicycle indoors when the weather is good.  In my area, we are very lucky to have beautiful bike paths that cross forests and rivers.  I love the earthy aromas I smell as I pedal through them.

Bike on trail

Nature as Fitness Center

And when I need a cardio workout, I get off the trail onto a hilly road that is more of a challenge than the bike trail.  I’m quite slow, my bike is old and heavy, but that just gives me a better workout!  Another great way to get your cardio going is by hiking.  If you’re lucky, there is a mountain not too far from where you live.  National, state and provincial parks offer a variety of trails for us to hike on.  And now, cities too, are developing hiking and biking trails in nearby areas.  So it’s getting easier to find trails that are suited to our fitness levels. 

We think that we need to go to a gym to get a complete workout, but nature is a pretty good fitness center as well.  Gyms have balance boards that develop agility and strengthen various muscles.  But when we walk in the woods, we get that type of workout walking in snow or on uneven terrain.  We have to leave the beaten path (literally!) and walk on the roots of trees, over dead branches, cross streams walking on the rocks, just as our ancestors needed to do when hunting and foraging.  Our bodies were designed to do this stuff!  This type of walking is excellent for balance and agility.  Climbing a tree is also a great workout, and so satisfying!

Don’t get me wrong, working out at the gym is an excellent idea for our health.  Certainly, much better than not exercising at all.  At a gym, there are trainers to help us better understand our body systems and supervise us as we work out.  They make sure that we don’t hurt ourselves by doing exercises that are too strenuous or not well executed.  When we have a goal, like losing weight or healing a specific part of our body, it is probably a good idea to have professionals around to give us guidance.  I’m a great believer in physical activity, no matter where it’s done. 

How Much Gear do We Need?

However, I am concerned about all the material that we purchase, in the name of practicing different sports.  Sometimes I feel like we are being brainwashed by companies and advertisers who just want to make money by making us feel like we need this stuff to be healthy.  We like to gear up with all the latest equipment, clothes and accessories for each sport that we practice.  We are told we need this stuff to perform better.  I am not a big believer in performance.  I feel that performance is based on competition and that there is too much of it in our world today.  We need to compete less and cooperate more.  Less ego, more love!

Nature is Grounding

Exercising in nature can feel like a meditation, especially if we’re being mindful.  When we pay attention to our surroundings, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feeling of our heart beating, the feeling of the air and moisture on our skin—we disconnect from the soundtracks of our minds. That is when we get the greatest benefit from being outside. Through our senses, we plug into the Earth.  I think that paying attention to nature grounds us because it is how our ancestors behaved.  They needed to be alert to their natural surroundings to find food and to avoid danger. 

Nature's glory

Nature Is Meant to Be Enjoyed

My eldest daughter lives in an area with many rivers and mountains.  The area attracts people who like to practice outdoor activities.  She likes to ski and snowboard, does kayaking, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, and more.  She is a trailblazer, literally, who plans and constructs hiking and biking trails.  At the end of her day’s work, she still feels like being outside.  She is part of a community of dynamic, lively people who get energized by being out in nature.  They enjoy challenging themselves in their athletic activities all the while enjoying the immense beauty that surrounds them. If our ancestors evolved living mainly outdoors, shouldn’t we do so as well?  It seems to me that we would be more harmonious in our minds and in our bodies by spending as much time as we can out of doors, in a natural setting.

In “The Color Purple”, Alice Walker has one of her characters say: “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”  I’d say it’s time to start noticing—and appreciating— everything that nature has to offer us…

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