Lifestyle

To Boost Well-Being, Forget That House, and Leave Your Own

Energy Express By Marilynn Preston

After 40 years on the fitness beat, something new to consider. A health care bill that is sickening. A pending health care bill that does nothing meaningful to prevent rising rates of chronic disease, assist citizens who aspire to wellness, encourage children to grow up to be strong and fit adults.
A health care bill that punishes the elderly, women, the poor and all people who favor a health care system that is sensible, fair and just.
My stomach is churning, my heart is squeezed, and it’s way too early for a glass of ouzo. (I’m in Greece. Come when you can.)
What to do? Go outside. Connect to nature at whatever level you like. Take a walk. Hug a tree. It won’t solve the problem, but it will help you feel better. Nothing has changed, but your mood — your sense of well-being — will shift. Chase a ball, have a swim, get a softball game going with friends who are equally miserable.
Misery doesn’t last long in nature. That’s the truth. It’s also true that all other industrialized nations, including Greece, find a way to deliver free basic health care to its citizens. So why does the U.S. structure health care around the needs of insurance companies, drug companies and other influential lobbying groups? Follow the money.
But we’re not going there now. Instead, we’re putting on our favorite race-walking shoes and heading into the sunshine.
Before I go, let me share the latest reasons why spending time outdoors, in nature, is such a super-duper idea, based on a recent report by Shelby Spears on the IDEAFit website, an excellent resource for people pursuing their own well-being.
SCIENCE SUPPORTS IT. We humans are hard-wired to benefit from being active outdoors. According to research compiled by the Harvard Medical School, when we’re playing in nature, our mood improves, stress levels drop, and we heal faster.
We also get healthy doses of vitamin D, which you won’t be getting if you play outside covered in chemical sunscreens. Skin cancers have skyrocketed since we all started using them. Some of the additives and chemicals turn out to be toxic when baked into the skin, and the instruction to keep lathering them on throughout the day was created to increase sales, not protection. There are benign, effective sunblocks out there and I urge you to find them. But I digress.
OUTDOORS BEATS INDOORS. In one 2011 study, people who walked outside felt a greater sense of well-being, less anger, less fatigue and more enjoyment than they felt when walking indoors on a treadmill, Spears reports.
“Moreover,” Spears says, “participants felt happier and more invigorated outside even though their walking speed was faster than it was on a treadmill.”
“Humans are innately connected to nature,” explains exercise scientist Jennifer Flynn. That’s one big reason why being active outdoors feels like more fun, less draining, less like something you have to do and more like something you want to do.
When that happens, you’re addicted to something wonderful.
USE WHAT YOU’VE GOT. Keep your outdoor workouts simple and make use of whatever is around you, suggests Hank Ebeling, a fitness trainer who specializes in outdoor fun. He uses park benches, picnic tables and games like bear crawl tag to help his trainees build strength; high-intensity sprints from tree to tree to build endurance.
“People love it,” he says. They realize that active movement — step ups, simple lunges — can feel like fun, and that working out doesn’t have to be done in a gym or in a complicated way.
If you have the resources to work with a trainer, good for you. But if that’s not in the cards, play the cards you’ve got. Go outside. Find some steps and go up and down. Use a mailbox for balance as you gently stretch your arms, legs, back and shoulders. Look around. Be a kid again. Make stuff up. Don’t hurt yourself.
And do what you can to push for a health care bill that is so good, so focused on patient education, prevention and compassionate care that it takes your breath away.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! HAVE YOUR OWN AN EXPERIENCE
“I’ve seen clients weep on the trail. … They’re so overwhelmed. It’s such an amazing feeling.” — Kristen Horler
Marilynn Preston is the author of “Energy Express,” America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book “All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being” is available now.

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