Written by: Heather Mikesell
As the weather continues to beckon with warmer days, people are heading outdoors to get their wellness fix. From a walk in the park to a backyard family BBQ, it’s all about being outside and enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer. While not everyone claims to be an outdoor enthusiast, most people recognize the benefits of getting outside. Nature therapy, also referred to as ecotherapy, is based on the idea that spending time in nature can have a positive impact on reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. In fact, there are various studies in recent years that show how nature can improve both mental and physical wellness.
Although we live in a society where people are increasingly tethered to their devices, it’s important that we disconnect from social media and instead reconnect with nature and the great outdoors. Just getting outside for a brief amount of time has been shown to help spark creativity and improve attention and focus. We’re not wired for the constant barrage of information we’re now expected to process every day. Fortunately, nature is the perfect antidote.
“Personally, I believe the only way we are truly able to ‘hear’ our inner wisdom is to give ourselves the space and time needed to receive the messages,” says Mary-Theresa Tringale, an accountability and money mindset coach. “Walking everyday outside has done just that for me.”
In Japan, forest bathing, also called shinrin-yoku, is considered preventative healthcare. The idea, which encourages people to immerse themselves in the forest to help improve their overall well-being, originated there. It has since been embraced here in the U.S., as people discover the therapeutic benefits of communing with nature. From breathing in the fresh air to listening to the sounds of birdsong, being in the great outdoors allows people to slow down and be present in the moment. Japanese research reveals that forest bathing can help reduce stress levels, enhance the ability to focus, and improve sleep quality.
In his book Secrets of Aging Well: Get Outside, author Martin Pazzani shares how walking outdoors is key to living a happier, healthier, and longer life. Citing numerous studies, he reveals how being outside for just two hours a week can boost serotonin levels, helping to elevate your mood and increase energy levels. Getting a daily dose of sunshine also produces elevated levels of vitamin D, providing a more robust immune system. Another little-known benefit is that getting outdoors and away from your digital devices can help improve your natural vision. According to Pazzani, excessive two-dimensional indoor screen time is not what we’re made for. Instead, we need to offset that time with three-dimensional time outside in nature.
“Taking big gulps of fresh air, seeing the expansiveness of nature unfold before my eyes, and feeling the sun on my face, I can literally feel my blood pressure drop and my shoulders un-hunch,” says Rona Berg, editorial director for Organic Spa magazine. “It quiets my mind and opens me up to more creative thinking. When the going gets tough—the tough go out for a walk.”
As we head into the summer season, many hotels and resorts are making the outdoors even more accessible and appealing with a host of activities that immerse people in the healing benefits of nature. At The Equinox Golf Resort & Spa in southern Vermont, you can enjoy hiking the scenic Green Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountain system, or take part in an Orvis Fly Fishing Experience. Fly fishing, a mindful and contemplative pursuit, deepens your connection with nature and is thought to provide many of the same benefits as meditation, such as reducing stress, minimizing anxiety, improving attention and concentration, and more.
You don’t have to be an outdoor enthusiast to understand the appeal of Jackson Hole. There, at Snow King Resort, the national parks are at your doorstep. Grand Teton National Park, just a 20-minute drive north, and Yellowstone National Park, one of America’s most prized outdoor treasures, provide plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, climbing, horseback riding, fishing, watching wildlife, and exploring the backcountry.
On the West Coast, the wellness benefits of nature abound at Lake Arrowhead, where Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa provides the perfect home base for getting outdoors and discovering all the area has to offer. Surrounded by Ponderosa Pines, the resort in the San Bernardino National Forest is at an elevation of 5,174 feet. Various hiking trails and fresh-water rivers are ripe for exploring. You can also visit Wildhaven Ranch, a not-for-profit wildlife sanctuary operated by the San Bernardino Mountains Wildlife Society. It’ll bring you up close and personal with the indigenous wildlife of the area. Also nearby is SkyPark, an outdoor adventure park with year-round mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing, and open-air activities.
In upstate New York, visit the great outdoors that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, Samuel Clemens (also known by his pen name Mark Twain), and Theodore Roosevelt with a stay at Saranac Waterfront Lodge, which is situated on Lake Flower’s Pontiac Bay. With its own marina, the lodge provides easy access to 24 miles of navigable waterways. Boating, kayaking, canoeing, and standup paddle-boarding are just some of the options for getting out on the water. And when you’re ready to hit the shore, the High Peaks of the stunning Adirondacks offers numerous trails to hike and peaks to summit.
For beach lovers, the Outer Banks in North Carolina provides plenty of natural wonders, thanks to pristine sandy beaches, wild dunes, and a beautiful coastline with various barrier islands to explore. At Sanderling Resort, you’ll take your cues from nature. There, the beach beckons and with it comes plenty of opportunities to exercise, soak up your daily dose of vitamin D, and enjoy the calming effects of sand, surf, and sun. For a Florida take on beach culture, head to Bellwether Beach Resort, opening this summer in St. Pete Beach. This new resort sits on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, giving you up-close-and-personal access to the revitalizing benefits of salt water and a chance to catch a glimpse of oceanic wildlife native to the area, including bottlenose dolphin and sea turtles.
“Connecting with nature is so important for our well-being and mental health,” says Tringale. “When we get outside, we are surrounded by abundance—trees, grass, water, plants, and animals. It’s a great way to remind ourselves that we are surrounded by so many miracles and so much natural beauty every day. It’s a great way to raise our vibe and celebrate what we do have access to.” Berg also finds inspiration and joy in nature. “When I’m outdoors, I enjoy hiking, taking nature walks, swimming, doing yoga, and horseback riding,” she says. “It makes me happy to push my physical limits and being surrounded by nature is humbling—and incredibly relaxing. We need to protect our natural environment not only so that we can enjoy it for future generations but also because it makes us feel good right now.”