The freezing days of winter are gone and for South Texas, spring is in the air! Recent research has shown what we all instinctively know— time outdoors is healthy! Here’s how to get healthy in the Great Outdoors in your area.
Take a deep breath!
For those with allergies, it seems counterintuitive that being outside might be better for you than staying indoors. Sure, air pollution is often the culprit in allergies, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. But outdoor concentrations of air pollutants are frequently two to five times less than those experienced inside your own house. And for those who spend approximately 90% of their time indoors (that’s most of us), that is reason enough to get outside. Spending more time in natural green spaces could benefit your health and yes, even your risk of suffering from respiratory concerns.
In 2016, one study looked at the relationship between local greenery and mortality risk. That study showed that people with the most greenery around them were the least likely—by 34 percent—to die from respiratory diseases!
Good places to get your greens
- The Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is a 250-acre preserve on Cypress Creek north of Houston in Humble. Miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, a butterfly house and a boardwalk over a cypress swamp allows you to take in the health benefits of experiencing one of the largest collections of native and cultivated plants in the Houston region. And if you’re up for the exercise, rent a horse and take a trail ride at nearby Cypress Trails Ranch Equestrian Centre.
- Angelina National Forest is just two hours north of Houston and is a perfect weekend getaway for anyone looking to get outside. Hikes under the cover of shortleaf pines makes it comfortable even if the weather is a bit too warm. The Sawmill Hiking Trails stretches for five miles from Bouton Lake to Boykin Springs recreation areas, and is a wonderful way to get some fresh air and see the ruins of an old tramway that was used for hauling logs right up until the 1920s. Old bridges and even the ruins of the sawmill will captivate your imagination
Catch better Zs!
Artificial light can mimic natural light, but direct sunlight has 200 times the intensity of office lights in a closed room. Your internal clock (your circadian rhythm) follows the sun. Humans were made to go to sleep with the sun and wake up with the chickens. Sunlight is much more effective at helping you maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Sunlight needs to enter your eyes to affect your circadian rhythm. That natural light can improve your sleep in several ways, including:
- Helping you feel more tired at night
- Aiding you in falling asleep faster
- Improving the quality of your rest.
Great ideas for more sunlight in your day
- Surfside Beach is only about an hour south of Houston, nestled in the small village of surfside. Surfside Beach is well known for its consistent waves that provide some of the best surfing in Texas. Or take your fishing pole and enjoy the deep coastal waters, the reefs, and the offshore oil platforms. Just relax in the sun and enjoy the salt air. So much more to do there while you enjoy lots of natural light, and you’ll return home ready for a really good night’s sleep.
- The Woodlands area has lots of outdoor things to do that will give you time in the sun as well. Hike, bike, or run the many trails—200 miles of them! The Spring Creek Nature Trail is a great place to indulge in your (new?) hobby of birdwatching, too. This is a great way to get kids involved!
Lift your mood!
Do you find yourself sighing frequently or fatigued a lot? Sunlight is a great antidote to depression! Seasonal depression can be eased in just a couple of days if you avail yourself of sunshine. Even major depression benefits from being outdoors. A hike or a run relieves stress and gives your mood a lift, even if the exercise is short.
- Start a garden! You don’t need much space to start a garden in your yard, but even if you don’t have space, you can start your own micro-farm with Get Moving Houston Urban Gardens. “The gardens are an interactive learning opportunity to demonstrate nutrition and gardening practices in an urban environment. It promotes physical activity and mental well-being through social interactions for people of all ages, “ according to their site, which lists 15 locations to get involved in gardening.
- Get some friends together and shoot some hoops at Hirsch Memorial Park in Humble. Plan a picnic or play a game of doubles tennis, or just watch the kids play on the playground. A great way to get the dose of sunshine that will lift your spirits and strengthen your bones.
Move your body
If you’re feeling less and less motivated to hit the gym, try some exercise in the great outdoors. Outside exercise has many benefits, including:
- A change of pace from the four walls of the gym
- Great way to socialize
- Exercise feels easier in an outdoor environment, according to a study.
Fun ways to move your body
- Take the kids and learn to kayak at Kinder Lake at Discovery Green in Houston. No kids? No problem! You might want to take your own battery-powered model boat and join the fun at the Model Boat Basin. Or join a gun and challenging bodyweight interval training class where you will burn calories and gain strength, endurance, and empowerment. This event is located at the Hess Patio Deck.
- Take your four-footed buddy and walk the three mile look at Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail around Memorial Golf Course near Houston where you’ll meet people of all ages and abilities along with friendly dogs on leash helping their humans get in shape. There is no exercise partner like a dog for enthusiasm!
A mental refuge
Overstimulation is a source of stress that can affect your mental health. We are constantly bombarded with intrusive stimuli from devices like phones, computers, rumbling roadways, construction… the list goes on and on. It is such a part of our busy lives we may not even realize the mental toll it is taking on us.
In nature, we can disconnect from all the noise—both physical and mental—and allow our souls to unwind. Our senses are soothed with the perfume of flowers, to the music of a tumbling creek, to the sight of birds soaring overhead. One study suggests that the sound of bird calls can help you feel more relaxed and focused, especially when you tune your focus to your surroundings. Interestingly, even being outside at night can provide your mind and body with the opportunity to restore its equilibrium.
Unwind and rejuvenate
- George Observatory in Needville, about an hour south of Houston, is a wonderful place to stargaze and let your mind explore the wonders of worlds outside our own. Listen to the sound of the stars and marvel at nature’s expansive display.
- Leave home behind and go camping on the beach in Galveston Island State Park. Thirty-six camping sites face the Gulf beach, where you can pitch a tent or park an RV. Relax to the sounds of seagulls while you collect seashells along the beach or build sandcastles. Lie in the sand and feel the sun and salty breeze caress your body. Watch the stars come out in a spectacular display as the night sky deepens.
Get healthier. The great outdoors is waiting, and everyday is a new adventure.