When our government shut the National Parks I was filled with a kind of deep dread. I knew my business was about to close its doors and that the future was very uncertain indeed, the schools were closing, the borders were closed, planes grounded – yet nothing hit me harder than the closing of the National Parks and the southern beaches. I was thinking I could still hike, perhaps head into some remote places of the Tassie wilderness and camp a few days. I was thinking – holiday first, and let the quiet of the bush put my mind right. That’s what I’ve always done by heading off for a bushwalk solo or with a few likeminded friends – get back to basics, calm the farm, sleep, and let nature fill my cup. Additionally, you can hike for hours in a Tasmanian national park and never see another soul, so this new concept of ‘social distancing’ is easy. Here’s my 5 top tips for heading out into nature (finding the best version you can), while keeping your health and sanity.
Investigate forest bathing
I’m a big fan of hiking in nature to promote health and happiness. This goes over and above the need for exercise. I was delighted to find that many shared my experience and in fact this therapeutic Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or the art and science of how trees can promote health and happiness is known as forest bathing. The concept of lowering (stress) cortisol levels and blood pressure, strengthening your immune and cardiovascular systems, boosting your energy, mood, creativity, and concentration, and even help you lose weight and live longer was identified by Dr Qing Li, the world’s foremost expert on forest medicine. He has a book – for more information go here
Mindfulness in nature
Mindfulness is simply being in the moment, focused on the task at hand, and returning the wandering mind back to that task. Examples I have used with my clients in need of a little peace in their busy minds is to stand in the bush – any set of trees is fine, a children’s park will do nicely. Stand or sit nice and close to a tree and find a point of focus. When I first did this I focused on the trunk of an aged eucalypt. I had never seen so much texture, so many colours, or the ants that wandered up and down. My other senses became heightened – I could hear birds, smell the freshness of the air, feel the temperature of the air entering my nostrils. I can still recall this even though it’s years ago. I was truly ‘in the moment’, and I can return to that feeling of calm – even now – as I write it down for you. Try it? 5 minutes is all it takes.
Social distancing is physical distancing (ie remain social)
While the COVID message is very clear – stay home – there is also (at least at the time of writing) our Prime Minister promoting exercise as an acceptable reason to leave the house. Just about every path or beach that is not closed has people walking on it – nicely distanced to avoid potential transmission and yet close enough to chat. Family groups can still head out for exercise together and personal trainers can still work with clients outdoors. Hiking ticks all the boxes because you just don’t hike shoulder to shoulder – there’s always space between you, and time for a photo at the destination. I recently visited a suburban green belt with some magnificent sandstone caves. We only saw 1 other family in 2 hours! Suburban spaces are often still open, or little-known paths between streets – this is a time to get out an investigate our neighbourhoods. Hiking is free, physical distancing is easy, and you are not breaking the rules!
It seems people are getting pretty creative with virtual catchups via zoom (or some such way of making contact) for Friday night drinks, online dinner parties, or sharing your pet photos. This is all making the best of a changed situation. However, at the time of writing we are allowed to meet outdoors for exercise. We can walk with a friend, social distancing considered, we can work with a personal trainer. We can walk and talk, buy a coffee from a local takeaway. We are not in total lockdown. We might be soon – who knows? Staying connected really is a cornerstone of keeping a healthy mindset so finding unique ways to link to your friends, family, workmates and hobbies is more important than ever!
Healthy body healthy mind
One of the great controllables (assuming you are not in a government lockdown facility) is the ability to exercise. I recently read that people who routinely do remote jobs (think Antarctic scientists or FIFO mining employees) stay emotionally stable by doing daily and even twice daily exercise routines. Exercise elevates the mood and activates the feel good hormones. Additionally, the increased heart rate, blood circulation, and challenging of the muscles improves strength, cardio vascular health and lowers blood pressure. Even if you are feeling glum get up, get dressed, and walk out the door. If after 10 minutes you want to go back home you always can – but get started and see if the mood elevates (I promise you it will)! Your physical health will improve too.
So when we consider all 5 of these tips you see why I am a huge fan of hiking! Hiking for health ticks all these boxes, from forest bathing, mindfulness, staying connected and retaining physical distancing guidelines while creating a healthy body, healthy mind! Perhaps during this time you may like to complete my 10 week ecourse on preparation for hiking – considering the food, gear and training needed to be ready for longer hikes, once the national parks re-open. It makes sense that for all these reasons the parks and beaches will be re-opened sooner rather than later!! I certainly hope so!!
Jo Cordell-Cooper operates the award winning business Jo CC Holistic PT, offers personal training, stress management strategies, preparation for hiking workouts, and adventure travel to multi-day hikes, locally and overseas. You can sign up to her newsletter