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2 the Outdoors: The benefits of walking in the woods

A winter walk in the woods is one of the simplest things we can do to promote our health and well being.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A winter walk in the woods is one of the simplest things we can do to promote our health and well being. The most obvious benefit is the exercise, but as always, Mother Nature provides a little extra to help us out. 

"There's a lot of things that science is finding out about the forest and all that, that gives off chemistry that can actually reduce all kinds of stress," said Mark Carra, naturalist at Beaver Meadow Audubon Center. "Not only because we're not in that hustle bustle world, but because those chemicals actually help us fight off disease so immunity can be a benefit."

Credit: Terry Belke
Solace is a great benefit to hiking in the Winter

A winter hike can also provide some intangible benefits. Especially during the beginning of the year, when fewer people are out, everything in a forest seems amplified.

Scott Lembitz is the co-director of Earth Spirit Educational Services. He says that the rush of the wind, the voices of birds, all of these help to lift our spirit. 

"It's kind of through those experiences, being in the woods and shifting gears, kind of downshifting to a slower place, that both emotionally and spiritually, I think things for me on a personal level, begin to grow," said Lembitz.

Such a small act can also lead to higher understanding. The misplaced boundaries we've constructed between ourselves and Nature has led to an unreasoning fear that Carra says can be easily dispelled.

"What you don't know about, you fear, so you either push it away, you kill it," Carra said. "You eliminate it. The Wolf. You eliminate the Wolf because the Wolf frightens you, and you saw all these stories, Little Red Riding Hood and such. Once you realize that you can learn about this stuff and you understand it, you start to realize the fear I had is totally unfounded, and we need to reconnect."

Credit: Terry Belke
A veil of snow transforms an ordinary landscape into a thing of incredible beauty.

That primal fear of what lurks in the forest has long kept us from truly connecting, but these days there are also high tech distractions. Both Carra and Lembitz advice leaving technology behind.

"I make it a point these days to throw the cell phone on the table or leave it in the truck, because it'll spoil it," Lembitz said.

Carra agrees, "A television, a computer, they're not going to give you what the natural world can give you just by walking out into nature, period."

It's a pure and easy way to regain that connection that we all need.

"I think that's kind of the message for our time right now," Lembitz said. "Appreciate that technology and speed oftentimes is counterproductive. Happiness can be found in simplicity, and we're given it, and it's truth in front of us. And it's beautiful."

Click here for more information about Beaver Meadow Audubon Center.

Click here for more information about Earth Spirit Educational Services.

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