I was enjoying a pleasant walk, breathing in the lovely weather, smiling at the chubby little squirrels that swerved every which way when I saw a woman walking towards me. She was far away but I recognized her walk. It was my sister.
“What a nice coincidence,” we said to each other as we met in the middle of the road and started to walk together, stopping here and there to take pictures because, unfortunately, this was an unusual encounter.
For almost a decade, my sisters and I would get up every morning and walk for five miles, even in the freezing cold. Four of us were serious walkers, but sometimes the fifth sister accompanied us. Sometimes, my cousin came along. When it was snowing or raining, people would watch us from their windows and probably think we were crazy.
Our schedules caused us to stop this morning tradition. Now each sister walks as her schedule permits, but we all still walk outdoors. Although I sometimes do miss those group walks. For the most part, they were healthy – except when we would get into such heated disagreements that the whole neighborhood again thought we were crazy.
Despite that, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan found that taking group nature walks is associated with a great deal of mental health benefits, including decreased depression, improved well-being and mental health, and lower perceived stress.
Sean Gobin is a veteran who founded Warrior Hike, a nonprofit outdoor therapy program that helps combat veterans’ transition by hiking the country’s national scenic trails. Gobin recently won an award for this program which has helped many veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Walking outdoors is one of the many free and beneficial gifts available to us. When we use these gifts, we have a more powerful relationship with this earth, with ourselves and each other, and we’re less dependent on medications for healing.