Exercise and fresh air are good for you. Reason enough to go for a hike. It’s the intangibles though, that make hiking such an enjoyable experience. You never know what you’re going to see while taking a walk in the woods. Carrying a pair of binoculars is worth the weight. So is your phone, which gives you both a camera and a voice recorder. As you walk and think, use the recorder to capture your thoughts. Lots of good ideas come to us on the trail as we exercise our minds and body.
The National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) promotes “First Day Hikes” to encourage people to visit a state park and take a hike on New Year’s Day. The NASPD website states, “America’s State Park programs are committed to promoting outdoor recreation in hopes to help address obesity, especially in children. Furthermore, exercise and outdoor activities rejuvenate the mind and body, promoting overall mental and physical health and wellness. Many believe that time spent in nature enhances creativity and lifts our moods.”
I couldn’t agree more with the reasoning NASPD promotes. As I grow older, I continue to become more and more worried about our younger generations. As the father of two teenagers, I witness firsthand how addicted to devices an entire segment of our population is. It’s hard for me to accept how much time my children and all their friends spend starring at screens. I live in a college town. It’s dangerous to drive through campus. You never know when a student, or a herd of them, will stumble into the street transfixed on their phone, oblivious to oncoming traffic. We need to get these young people outdoors. They can bring their phone, but hopefully, it’ll be in their pocket for a bit.
In the United States, 42.4 percent of adults over 20 years old are obese, according to the 2021 Obesity Report from Trust for America’s Health. What’s worse, 19.3 percent of children are too. That means one out of five children is obese. We are the 14th most obese nation. Yet, we have parks and public lands galore. Opportunities to exercise with little to no cost are endless.
COVID is substantially more dangerous, even life-threatening, to obese individuals. If you’re obese and are worried about the dangers of COVID, now is a great time to buy a pair of hiking boots and start hitting some trails in your neck of the woods. You’ll feel better while improving your health.
A few years ago, my cousin’s brother-in-law finally had enough. Jeff had always been a big man. When he topped out over 400 pounds, he said enough and bought a pair of shoes. He started walking, and the results started showing. He began to jog. Before long, he was competing in 5ks and longer races. Jeff lost over 200 pounds the old-fashioned way – he worked at it. No fad diet. No miracle approach. He changed his eating habits and started exercising. He developed a new mindset and built a better life.
Growing up in Chicagoland, I learned early to appreciate good-tasting food. Remember the Chicago Bears Super Fans on Saturday Night Live. Those were my people. Deep dish pizza, Italian beefs, and fried lake perch are only the beginning of the culinary treats I crave. But now I’ve watched loved ones deal with diabetes, and I know people who have died during this pandemic who likely would have lived if they’d been in better shape. I’m motivated to do better, to be better.
Nature has a way of improving us. Not just physically through the demands of strength and endurance, but also mentally, by giving us time to just think and breathe. If you are into making resolutions, perhaps this is the year you make a real change. A year when you say enough is enough, and you put on your hiking boots and start your journey. Take it one step at a time. Start your journey with a First Day Hike on New Year’s Day.
See you down the trial…