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Summer has arrived and the outdoors are beckoning into the warm sunshine, cool shade, tall pines and scenic trails. Did you know spending time outside can also make you happier and healthier?

·       Calmer mind and body. Being in nature provides reduces anxiety and stress. The scent of many plants such as lavender, jasmine, lilacs and roses are proven to calm and relax the mind and body. The scent of fresh pine has been shown to lower depression and anxiety.

·       Less depression; more happiness. 2010 Harvard study links nature walks to better overall mental health and positivity, fewer feelings of depression and stress, and a reduction in anti-depression and -anxiety medications.

·       Restored brain function. Walking and interacting with nature gives your brain a break from everyday overstimulation, which translates into a restorative effect. Outside, the brain’s energy can recover and replenish, much like recharging a battery.

·       Increased focus, concentration and creativity. The National Institute of Health reports people who take “outdoor breaks” throughout the day are more focused and have better concentration skills than those who remain indoors for long periods of time.

·       Stronger muscles; better mobility. Hiking increases endurance and bone density, as well as building stronger muscles. Core muscles are strengthened, which means relief from lower back pain and more stability that increases balance and decreases falls. Walking and gardening can help dementia and stroke patients live a higher quality of life by instilling confidence while increasing mobility and dexterity.

·       Exercise is productive. People who run or cycle outside exert more energy than those on treadmills or stationary bikes, with less strain on the body. And because most enjoy outside exercise more than inside exercise they engage more regularly and for longer periods.

·       High altitude promotes weight loss. A 2013 International Journal of Obesity study found that Americans who live at sea-level are four to five times more likely to be obese as those who live in the high-altitude communities.

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·       Stronger immune system. Getting enough Vitamin D from the sun is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. Breathing fresh air stimulates the body’s production of illness-fighting white blood cells.

·       Lower blood pressure. Logging cardio workouts in the form of hiking can lower blood pressure by four to 10 points and reduce the danger of heart disease, diabetes and strokes for those who are at high risk, according to the American Heart Association.

·       Improved sleep. Sleep patterns, regulated by the body’s internal clock called circadian rhythm, are naturally tied to the sun’s schedule. Spending too much time inside can result in poor sleep patterns.

NACA’s Spring Into Summer Hiking Series is open to the community. The monthly hikes range from 1.5 miles to 7 miles in popular Flagstaff hiking locations. Scheduled hike dates are May 4, June 8, July 13, Aug. 3, Sept. 7 and Oct. 5. All hikes begin at 7:30 a.m. For more information, call the NACA Family Health & Wellness Center at 773-1245.

Sheena Tallis is the Health Promotions Program manager at NACA, Inc.

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Is there a health topic you would like to know more about? Contact Starla S. Collins, health writer, life & success coach and public relations expert, at StarlaSCollins@gmail.com.

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