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By Joanne Smogor
Getting outdoors is good for the body and soul. The Santa Fe Conservation Trust offers several easy ways to make it happen.
Spending time in forests, hiking in mountains, walking to a park or just finding a greenspace can lead to healing and restorative effects on our mind and body. Science is now overflowing with research as to why spending time outdoors is beneficial to both adults and children – perhaps a silver lining in these days of staying home?
We have all probably heard about the protective effects of vitamin D production (from the sun) in fighting everything from osteoporosis to cancer, depression, heart attacks and stroke. But what about nature’s promise of greater creativity, reduced stress and anxiety, decreased fatigue, elevation of mood and even vision protection, better concentration and better academic performance among kids? Spending just 20 minutes in a park — even if you don’t exercise while you’re there — is enough to improve well-being, according to some research.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” (basically just being in the presence of trees) lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress hormone production, boosts the immune system and improves overall feelings of well-being. The practice of “grounding” or “earthing” (coming in direct contact with the earth by walking barefoot, lying on the ground or gardening) has also shown promise in NIH studies at lowering stress hormones, improving sleep cycles and reducing chronic inflammatory illnesses and pain.
Now that we’re home and probably spending more time in front of computer screens, televisions and phones, it’s even more vital that we follow what some physicians and mental health professionals are actually writing for their patients as “nature prescriptions.” Simply put, this means: Get outdoors regularly!
Of course, walking, hiking or hopping on a bike is the easiest way to do this. Santa Fe has a city-wide network of paved, non-motorized pedestrian and bicycle trails for the benefit of residents, as well as ADA-compliant walking and wheelchair rolling routes in local parks that are both safe and accessible. Trail maps can be downloaded from the city of Santa Fe website .
If you’d rather be on dirt or nestled among the juniper and piñon in the foothills or in open space, we have a network of over 50 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, including some shared multi-use trails for equestrians. The city's wilderness trails connect to other well-known trails in Santa Fe County, the Santa Fe National Forest and other surrounding areas. You'll find trail descriptions and downloadable maps on the Santa Fe Conservation Trust (SFCT) website.
All of the city’s dirt trails are maintained by SFCT. We are still busy in the time of COVID-19 so that you can reap the benefits of nature these days, albeit with social distancing and increased measures of safety:
This year, with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, Santa Fe Conservation is not hosting its usual Vámonos - Santa Fe Walks program of five scheduled group walks per month from May through October, but we still encourage you to get outside so we are offering Virtual Vámonos! Each week we will be providing a link to a map of a walk that we think you will enjoy, and we will occasionally add short video clips of walk leaders on a trail, so check back often!
So whether you take advantage of hiking trails near your home or just spend time in your backyard, walking your dog, or in a local park while we are sheltering at home, we hope the words of John Muir, America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist, and founder of our national parks, fill you with renewed energy and act as a reminder to be in nature regularly:
“Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (Our National Parks, 1901)
Or as Edward Abbey says: “Wilderness is not a luxurybut a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” (Desert Solitaire, 1968)