Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

The Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

GettyImages-1189775053Every Sunday, I make a cup of coffee and head outside. I often just sit and listen to the sounds all around me. I take it all in. Even now I can feel the sun on my face, sense the gentle breeze, the sound and feel of the chair as it gently rocks back and forth. It is so easy for me to close my eyes and bring myself right back to that moment whenever I need to. There is something about being outdoors that feels so important to me. Every experience in my life seems more fulfilling while I am doing it outdoors.

For example, I love running outdoors. If you ask me to run on the treadmill, I have more of an attitude of I will do it because I know it is good for me, and not so much because I love it. The same goes for swimming. Put me in the ocean and I am in my glory but the same does not seem to exist for me when it comes to jumping into an indoor pool.

There have been studies that talk about the health benefits of being outdoors and perhaps these studies can more definitively describe the feelings and benefits most human beings experience when they are outdoors.

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.

It's not clear exactly why outdoor excursions have such a positive mental effect. Yet, in a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

"When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts," says Dr. Strauss.

Digging a bit deeper, it appears that interacting with natural spaces offers other therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body's fight-or-flight response.

The visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect, according to Dr. Strauss. "Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry".

As the weather changes and summer begins to roll back in, find ways to get back outside and enjoy the outdoors. The no cost key to living a happier, healthier life.

Topics: senior wellness mental health outdoor exercise

5 Tips for the Beginner Hiker

GettyImages-1223350324Hiking is amazing in so many ways. It is great for physical activity, mental health and stress-relief, cardiovascular health, socialization and more. I’ve always loved the outdoors, but my love for hiking drastically increased when I went to Sedona, Arizona. The red rocks, the greenery, the breeze thousands of feet above sea level…breathtaking. No matter where you hike, you will experience many wonderful things along the way. If you have never hiked before or have only hiked a handful of times, follow these five steps for a great hiking experience:

  1. Hike with a friend or a group of people. Hiking is a great time to socialize with friends and family. You don’t have to carry on conversation the whole time, but it’s nice to have someone with you to keep you company. Hiking allows you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life, take part in physical activity together, and experience the wonders of nature. It’s also a good idea to have someone with you for safety reasons.
  1. Plan your hike and have a map. Before you lace up and hit the trail, make sure you have your hike planned out. Here are some details that you should plan for: distance, elevation, estimated traffic of the trail, weather, layers to wear/bring, estimated duration and travel time to and from your house to the trailhead. Distance and elevation are important because the longer distance and the higher elevation, the harder the hike will be. Some apps and websites list the estimated level of difficulty to help you determine if it’s the right trail for your desired intensity. The traffic of the trail isn’t as important to determine ahead of time; but if you plan to bring your dog hiking and you know he barks at people all the time, then it would be best to go on a trail marked as low traffic. Check the weather to make sure you bring the right gear. Generally, the higher elevation, the colder the weather, so make sure you bring the right layers with you just in case the weather changes as you are hiking and increase elevation. Finally, estimate the duration of the hike and the time to and from the trailhead to your house. Make sure your group members know the plan and don’t forget to bring a map! Most trails have maps they give out at the park entrance.
  1. Wear appropriate hiking shoes. It is not necessary to have hiking boots but choose shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. In the summer, I would suggest tennis shoes or hiking shoes. Wear tall socks that protect your feet and ankles from blisters. In the colder or rainier months, I would suggest wearing waterproof hiking shoes or boots to keep your feet warm and dry.
  1. Pack the essentials. Make sure to bring a water bottle and snacks. It is also a great idea to bring a first aid kit. Be smart with the gear you bring, such as sunscreen on a hot day or a scarf on a windy day. Even if you plan a short hike, bring the essentials in case you are out longer than planned.
  1. Soak in the moment. Breathe the fresh air. Slow down and enjoy. Yes, hiking is physical activity and can be challenging, but it is also a chance to rest your body and mind from the day-to-day routines you have in place. I would encourage you to stop for 5 minutes during your hike and just look at the beauty of the nature around you. Take slow, deep breaths. Talk to your friends about something you notice that you otherwise would have missed. Enjoy the moment!

 I know these tips will allow you to plan ahead properly, so I hope you are excited and ready for your next hike! Where are your favorite hiking locations?

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Topics: exercise and wellness outdoor exercise

How to Start a Home Garden

Having a home garden is a simple and rewarding way to grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs while also being physically active. Springtime is the perfect season to begin planning which plants you want to grow, organizing the layout for your garden, and preparing the space. Gardening can add value to your life no matter your time commitment, space, or experience!

Check out these steps to get your home garden started:

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  1. Where to Plant? Most plants thrive when they review direct sunlight, so you ideally want to place your garden in a spot where it will receive the most amount of direct sunlight throughout the day.
  2. What to grow? Most farmers recommend starting your first garden by growing items that you consistently eat now as well as items that can be easily preserved or stored. Each individual seed packet has directions referring to growing duration, when to harvest, and when to germinate the seeds. For best results, review each individual seed packet and plant based off those recommendations.
  3. Prepare the space. Some people opt to till-up the ground, talk about a great way to burn calories, others choose to build or purchase raised garden beds. The benefit of raised beds are that they allow you to maximize the space you have, especially if you live in a dense area such as the city or even an apartment. They also help to make gardening and more manageable for the first-time gardener. The downside of using raised beds are that you will need to invest more resources into the purchasing and building and filling the beds. Consider what material you use, increase nutrients to the soil by use of compost, manure, sand, and peat moss.
  4. Plant the seeds. It is best to refer to the seed packets for more specific instructions about depth, timing, and other important variables. Additionally, it is important to plant any tall items, such as tomatoes, corn, or anything grown on a trellis on the North side of the garden. This will allow the shorter items to still receive enough southern sun without anything impeding the direct light.
  5. Garden maintenance. Now that your garden is planted you want to maintain your efforts to help your garden flourish. Be sure to weed 2-3 times per week to h
  6. elp over growth or invasion of unwanted weeds. Water daily, keep your plants hydrated. Consider mulch or wood chips around the base of your plants.

Don’t let your lack of space keep you from gardening!

If you do not have a yard or have limit space on your property, then container gardening will be the best place to start. Many individuals will use small to large planters to grow various herbs and even some smaller fruits and vegetables. The same steps from above apply to container gardening: correct placement of the containers, proper sunlight, soil, and room to grow.

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Topics: outdoor exercise

Bust Outdoors this Spring!

GettyImages-1225849007The winter months have come to a close and we have officially made it to April. It is the time of year when Spring has finally returned. The days are getting longer and warmer as we finally start getting back to a more normal environment. It’s time to take part in the many joys that Spring brings. During the winter months, we spend so much time indoors that by the time Spring rolls around our bodies are in desperate need of some Vitamin D. Make time to get outside each day to soak up that sun and warmth you have missed!

Check out these ideas and make the time to step outside:

  1. Go for a walk or run: For some, getting your steps in is hard during the winter months if you don’t have access to a treadmill or place to walk safely. Now that it is Spring, the outside can be your gym! Take your workout outdoors and find walking or running trails. You can also walk around your neighborhood and enjoy the seasonal changes.
  2. Garden: Try something new and work on planting a garden or try your green thumb at house plants. It doesn’t have to be anything too big. Start with a couple of vegetables or some different flowers. This gives you a great excuse to get outside and sneak some exercise in as well. If you are needing some inspiration of where to start with a garden, check out this link!
  3. Do your work outside: If you are working from home it can be very easy to get stuck in the habit of sitting at the same spot day in and out. If you have the ability and flexibility to, take your work or computer outside to the back patio. This change of scenery is a great way to get a breath of fresh air and soak up vitamin D.
  4. Grill out on the patio: Try planning to grill out a couple times a week or even take your lunch break outside. If you have kids at home, plan a picnic in the backyard for a fun activity. Spending some time outdoors at the end of the day is a great way to decompress after a long day.
  5. Encourage the family to get outside: Schedule a household recess. Take a break from technology and spend time with outdoor activities during the evening. A family walk or bike ride is a great way to burn some energy and build lifelong habits.

What do you most enjoy about spending Spring outdoors?

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Topics: outdoor exercise

Why Spending Time Outdoors Is Good for Physical and Mental Wellness

GettyImages-1138813719 (1)If you’re looking to improve the overall happiness and well-being of your residents—and even yourself—try taking your offerings outside of the fitness center and straight into nature!

Many of our NIFS fitness staff members schedule outdoor activities as a key component of their wellness programming, when and where weather permits. Some of the most popular open-air activities we have offered include walking groups, hiking trips, snowshoeing, yoga classes, mindfulness and meditation events, recreational sports, gardening, and outdoor socials. Exercise-related health benefits are already widely acknowledged, but did you know that the additional advantages of immersing oneself in nature may far surpass exercise alone?

Let the Sun Shine In!

Sunlight can help boost your Vitamin D levels, which is essential in calcium absorption to keep bones healthy and strong. Those who aren’t getting enough Vitamin D are much more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, weight gain, Alzheimer’s, and a whole catalog of cancers. In addition, getting sufficient sunlight can aid in preventing type-2 diabetes and some autoimmune disorders.

Get Active

Physical activity typically increases as we spend more time in natural environments, and the two together help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls how the body responds when at rest. Not only does this provide a relaxing, calm feeling, but it also reduces resting blood pressure, strengthens immunity, and can help decrease the risk of developing chronic disease.

Just Being Outside Is Beneficial for Mental Health and Wellness

Not in the mood for a “workout”? That’s okay, too! You can still fight mental fatigue, tension, and stress by simply being in nature. A study conducted at the University of Michigan found that spending as little as 20 minutes either sitting or walking in nature was enough to significantly reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone commonly used as a stress marker. The greatest rate of reduction in cortisol levels was observed in those who spent between 20 and 30 minutes in green spaces.

Anxiety and depression, too, have been proven to be lessened by spending time in nature’s powerful restorative environments—so powerful, in fact, that researchers at Stanford University call time spent in nature a mental health prescription.

Mental health disorders can contribute to poor sleep, and poor sleep can equally contribute to mental health disorders. Not only can time spent in nature improve overall mental health, leading to better sleep, but it can also play a fundamental role in improving sleep patterns, leading to better mental health. Sleep patterns are intrinsically regulated by circadian rhythms—this is commonly referred to as the body’s internal clock—which is directly tied to the sun’s schedule. Spending too much time in the absence of natural light, or in the presence of artificial light, can alter a person’s circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep patterns. Lucky for us, this balance is easily restored by getting back to nature and spending time outside.

Are you taking advantage of all that nature has to offer and sharing it with everyone you know?

NIFS staff love helping create Active Adventures with the communities where we help do wellness better.  Click below to see if outsourcing and having a vendor partner with you is a right fit!

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Topics: disease prevention senior wellness programs bone density emotional wellness depression vitamins anxiety nifs staff nature outdoor exercise