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Get outside. It does a mind and body good

Whether it’s hiking Bald Mountain, kayaking on First Lake or just relaxing by the fire at my Old Forge camp, I have found that being outdoors in nature does my mind and body good. Just a walk, a hike or snowshoeing at a leisurely pace is amazing exercise and, because it’s so beautiful and enjoyable, it doesn’t even feel like a work out. There are many aspects of a healthy lifestyle that you can adopt by simply stepping outside.

Get busy relaxing

Escaping into the Adirondacks to enjoy the benefits of nature started for me when I was a young girl born and raised in the Utica area. Now it’s a family affair for me, my husband Dale and our adult children, Ann (husband Frank Candella) and Bob (fiancee Alyssa Alberico).

The tradition of visiting the mountains, forests and streams of the Adirondacks, with its vibrant blend of public and private lands, continues to create wonderful memories for us as we enjoy all that nature has to offer.

There is never a time that we are bored or can’t find something to appreciate outside when we are here. We keep busy with our boat, fishing, walks, hikes … but it’s a “busy” that always feels relaxing.

Nature for stress management 

The Adirondack High Peaks and hundreds of miles of diverse waterways have had such a positive impact on me that I’ve noticed an improvement not only in my physical health but my mental health as well.

I have high blood pressure and try to take care of myself, and stress management is part of it. I never feel like I am stressed, but as soon as I get in my car and head to Old Forge, I can feel a change take place as the tension in my neck and shoulders relaxes. The time I spend hiking or just relaxing outside with a book is something I do for my health without even realizing it.

Health research tells us that contact with nature recharges our brain, allowing us to better cope with the stresses of life and that, when not overtaxed with the everyday demands of modern life, nature gives our brains time to restore. I am living proof of the benefits of the improved mood, creativity, concentration and stress relief that nature brings.

Other benefits of being outdoors

Sunlight on the skin leads to the creation of vitamin D, which we all need for protection against osteoporosis and other diseases. Just 10 to 15 minutes, a few times a week, of sun hitting your arms and legs is all that is needed. If you’re going to be out longer, use sunscreen!

Being active and outdoors can also help us all age more gracefully. Older people who get out every day stay healthy and functioning longer. Studies have shown those who have contact with nature have fewer complaints of aches, sleep issues, and other health problems.

Enjoy the outdoors with care

While busy enjoying the benefits of sunshine and fresh air, I’m always mindful that there are dangers to keep in mind. It’s important to protect yourself from illnesses such as Lyme disease and skin cancer.

Here are a few simple and effective tips to avoid getting Lyme disease:

¯ Wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors.

¯ Use insect repellent.

¯ Check everyone, including pets, when you return, and quickly remove any ticks you find.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Keep these tips, provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in mind when outside:

¯ Seek shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter.

¯ When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts.

¯ Wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears and the back of your neck.

¯ Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts.

¯ Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Spending time outdoors, whether in the Adirondack Park or anywhere, is the cornerstone to every healthy lifestyle. Remember to do it safely, and it will provide, as it has for me, a lifetime of health benefits and great memories.

Eve Van de Wal, a former critical care nurse, lives in New Hartford and is regional president for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, based in Utica.

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