Early morning lake view with misty and clouds

The great outdoors are… great!

Today’s blog comes from Sarah Higginson, a market development specialist with Ontario Parks.

August is over and so is the Healthy Parks Healthy People 30×30 Challenge.

This was my first year taking on the challenge (not counting the year I did it for two days then got distracted) and it was a magical month-long adventure filled with scenery, sunshine, and even some self-awareness!

Challenge accepted

I’ve got to say, I kicked off the challenge feeling pretty smug.

I already try to get outside a lot — hiking, bike rides, and never-ending work on my garden. So, I was curious to see what additional benefits I would feel by committing to spending 30 minutes in nature for 30 days.

August arrived and I spent a few days exploring the area around Lake St. Peter Provincial Park. I paddled a canoe one day and a kayak the next. There was lots of swimming, quiet forest walks, and coffee on misty mornings.

Variety is the spice of life

The challenge isn’t just about pristine wilderness — urban nature counts too!

I had some great walks on trails near a local river. It wasn’t always active — I had lazy days when I relaxed or read in my garden, listening to the very noisy Blue Jays and Pileated Woodpeckers that hang out in my neighbourhood.

I wasn’t always completely successful. Does the day I spent 30 minutes on my front porch hiding from torrential rain count as time in nature? Maybe not.

Mid-month I was lucky enough to have a camping adventure — and that’s when I started to really feel the benefits of the time I was spending outdoors.

I love nature!

I noticed something very interesting after sleeping under the stars (okay, in a tent under the stars) for a few nights.

Tent in a wooded area next to a lakeMy average resting heart rate dropped more than 10 beats per minute after a few days in the outdoors.

Is this purely anecdotal? Yes.

Are all the scientists I know rolling their eyes? Guaranteed.

But did it make me think about the power nature has to make us feel better? Absolutely.

The reliability of my fitness tracker aside, I also felt great: I slept better, food tasted better, I was more patient with my kids and dogs, and even became accepting that spiders were my new roommates and everything I owned was coated in an outrageous amount of sand (and pine gum — a great combo!).

Fact: nature is awesome!

Even though I already felt like I spent a lot of time outside, when I actually stopped and paid attention to how nature made me feel — I was surprised to notice all the different ways nature made me feel great.

But you don’t have to take my word for it!

Recent scientific studies have shown that:

  • the smell of fresh pine can lower depression and anxiety
  • interacting with natural spaces for 20-30 minutes, three days a week can lower blood pressure and reduce stress
  • viewing natural landscapes can boost our mood
  • getting outside can reinvigorate our bodies and wake up our minds

With all that evidence, it’s no wonder my time outside made me feel so great.

Experience nature 365 days a year

I think it’s official: I’m addicted to nature!

As August was winding down I was already planning how to keep getting my daily dose of nature in the fall and winter.

My ideas include evening nature hikes, working with my kids to observe and record the switch of seasons as we move from summer to fall, and hopefully a few more dips into some of our amazing Ontario lakes, weather permitting!

We are all craving nature — this year more than ever — and I can’t wait to keep enjoying it all year round!

Children playing in an urban pine forest

Your turn!

We loved seeing all the posts on social media showing how people were tackling (and rocking) the 30×30 Challenge!

Let’s keep using the #HPHP and #30x30Challenge hashtags. We’d love to hear what you noticed during the challenge.

What was your favourite outdoor experience this August? And most importantly how are you going to keep up your newfound habit year-round?