Health and Happiness Benefits of the Great Outdoors 

May 21, 2016  
Filed under Health & Wellness, Things to do

yellow bootsBy Marilynn Preston

Raise your hand if you’re planning to do some hiking this spring. Then reach around and pat yourself on the back. Bravo! You’re tuned in to something mysterious and true, joining millions of hikers all over the world.

Stepping into the Great Outdoors 

Outdoors is why healthy lifestyles were invented. It’s a sublime way to focus on your fitness, both mental and physical. And the impact it has on your spirit knows no bounds.

When you walk in the wilderness — no matter how slowly, or if you’ve nowhere to go and nothing to do — every step, every breath, can lead you down a path to self-discovery, says Eileen McDargh, author of “Gifts from the Mountain: Simple Truths for Life’s Complexities.”

The book’s not new, but neither are my favorite Timberland hiking boots. I like to reread parts from time to time to remind myself why it’s so worthwhile to slow down, lace up and hit the trail

It’s a lesson author McDargh didn’t learn until late in life.

In her younger days, McDargh’s ideal vacation was spent poolside at a fancy resort. We’re talking $900 lounge chairs, hot showers, cold adult beverages, a stack of books to read and a suitcase full of designer clothes.That ended when McDargh — an international business and leadership expert — fell in love with wilderness hiking. She even celebrated a big birthday with a risky and remote trek in the Himalayan Mountains.

I did that once, too. In fact, spending six weeks together in the mountains of Nepal and Tibet is how those old Timberland boots became my favorites.

“Getting out of one’s comfort zone is the best way to grow and experience life,” says McDargh.

The challenges of mountain hiking — carrying 40 pound packs, braving 65 mph winds, crossing freezing cold glacial rivers by foot — taught her hard lessons and simple truths that, she believes, are enormously helpful in meeting the challenges of your own life, on and off the trail.

Of course you don’t have to go to those extremes — a sunny day in Yellowstone or your closest forest preserve can be a profound experience, too.

“You have your own mountain,” McDargh writes. “There’s always a challenge that demands your attention.”

Here are a few highlights from her wise and useful book:

Pack out your garbage — That’s good advice on the trail and in real life, too. If you’re leaving a job, a marriage, a relationship, “don’t leave behind hurtful words … trashed property or people,” McDargh says. “Leave well. Someone will enter the spot you have left. Besides, who knows? You might return someday.”

Celebrate how far you’ve come — Step after step, higher and higher, we move through the landscapes of our lives. We get tired. We forget to stop, turn around and celebrate the journey we’ve taken.

Listen to your body — On the trail, hiking up the mountain, you have to go slow, drink water and give your body a chance to acclimatize to higher altitudes. That’s when it’s crucial to listen to your body. “If it feels right, go forward,” McDargh advises. “If not, there’s wisdom in staying where you are.”

Every ounce counts — Hikers have to be aware of every item they carry. They pack dried apples instead of trail mix. They share toothpaste.

“How often do we encumber our civilized life with things we want instead of things we truly need?” asks McDargh. “Choose what you carry carefully. I never saw a hearse with a U-Haul behind.”

Take courage — “If you keep your head inside a tent, you’ll miss the stars,” McDargh writes. Metaphorically speaking, she’s advising us to stick our heads out of our comfort zones.

“Take courage,” she says. “If you leave your tent, you will find a world of wonder.”

And if the wider world is too scary? “You can always go back inside,” she says. But in my experience, you won’t. — CNS


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