Top 5 Health Benefits of Family Hiking

1. Improved Cardiovascular and Muscle Fitness

Do you remember when children ran outside and played active games like hide and seek or hopscotch? Today children are often sitting in front of the television, engrossed in a video game, or texting their friends. Regular hiking will build stronger muscles and improve their heart, lung, and vascular fitness. Adults are also less active if they have careers that keep them at their desks.The whole family gets healthier together!

2. Improved Bone Health

A sedentary lifestyle results in weak bones that may break more easily, in children and adults. The impact of walking and hiking strengthens bones at the cellular level and is one of the factors to reduce the chance to develop osteoporosis as we age.

3. Better Sleep

Who doesn’t want their children and themselves sleeping better!

4. Active Learning Using All the Senses

When you expose your children to different environments, the opportunity to learn is huge. Take the time to engage all your senses by closing your eyes and smelling the odors of nature; pine scent in a forest, earthiness of a swamp, sweetness of wild roses, the deliciousness of ripe wild strawberries. Using touch, feel the textures of different rocks, tree bark, leaves, and stones. In the stillness of a quiet forest or along a lakeshore listen for the calls of birds. Look for the small animals often missed, ground beetles, blue dragonflies, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

5. It Just Feels Good

The positive energy in nature makes us smile. To tune in to its treasure, ask your family to sit on a rock or bench in a comfortable location, in sun if it’s chilly, in shade if it’s hot. Instruct everyone to close their eyes and breathe in to the count of 4, breathe out to the count of 4. In a soothing voice say, “Feel the breeze across your face and the warmth of the sun on your neck. Ahhhh. How do you feel?” Let your children express their feelings in this safe, loving environment. Congratulations, they’ve just participated in a short meditation!

Take a Walk in a Public Garden

Revisit a Favorite Garden

It had been a week since I’d visited my favorite place, Bok Tower Gardens. Puttering in my own garden wasn’t enough. I needed to walk in nature too. On the way to the grocery, I took a side trip to the public garden, handed over my membership card at the front gate, drove the winding road past citrus groves, longleaf pine forest, and parked beneath the shade of a live oak. Opening my door in the climate controlled environment I was assaulted by the air heavy with humidity from the previous day’s much-needed rain. Quickly I grabbed my backpack, stuffed in my wallet and pocketed the iPhone.

Notice by Being in the Moment

As I walked under the arch with the quote, “Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it,” I pondered my own life. This quote had been a part of the gardens since it opened in 1928. As a child, I read it in various locations every time my family and I visited. Perhaps it influenced my lifelong love of gardening, especially flowers. Or maybe this place calls me because I have the same philosophy. I just knew I was happy to be in the midst of the beauty this garden offered. As I continued along the walkway outside the visitor center, the “What’s in Bloom” table caught my attention. My head bent, I inhaled the heady aroma of the gardenias in a vase flanked by pentas and firebush, picked that morning from the gardens by one of the many volunteers. Sometimes I would spend my visit hunting for the blooms on the table. Instead I felt I needed to forgo formal gardens and walk among the native plants.

Follow Your Gut Instinct

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Southern Magnolia

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary

Just past the Pollinator Garden, I entered the large oval, my first intersection. I checked my inner voice for direction. It led me left, fragrance once again pulling me forward toward a towering Southern Magnolia tree. As I continued toward the wild gardens I saw Gulf Fritllary butterflies as they flitted about above the native purple passionflower vine, Passiflora incarnata. I looked under the leaves with holes eaten hoping to find a caterpillar, bright orange with black spines, without success. The adults, however, gifted me with opportunities to photograph them, pausing just long enough to snap these portraits.

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Close Your Eyes and Listen

On the edge of the Wild Garden I heard the “Chee-wink” call of an Eastern Towhee. It brought back memories of my grandmother who lived next door. She taught me the names of all the flowers in her garden and the feathered visitors. The call of the Towhee always made her smile. As I searched nearby trees I found the less colorful female perched on the limb of a sumac, the male furiously vying for her attention. Next my wanderings led me into the nearby bog where carnivorous pitcher plants fed on hapless flies and ants. A native milkweed bloomed among the native grasses, the leaves a larval food for the Monarch Butterfly progeny. It reminded me how vital it is to include native plants in the home landscape, natives for natives. Bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, and birds are all dependent on native plants for food and shelter. As homes replace the native meadows, bogs, and forests, we help the native animals survive when we add native plants to our gardens.

Native Milkweed

Native Milkweed

Pine Ridge Trail

Pine Ridge Trail

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How are Native Gardens and Designed Gardens Different?

Finishing out my hour in nature, I walked the gravel section of the Pine Ridge Nature Trail. I was surprised to see Turkey Oak leaves turning red in June and realized it was the current drought that forced these trees into early dormancy. The trail wound back into the Edible Garden joining the main trail toward the Visitor Center and entrance. My spirit renewed and a little damp with perspiration, I paused to drink water from my day pack, and turned back toward my car and the resumption of my morning errands.

Take Your Renewed Spirit Into the World

As I parked under a strip mall parking lot tree, the prospect of my errands seemed lighter and my smile brighter as I gathered my reusable bags, and entered the local Publix grocery, where “shopping is always a pleasure”, especially after a visit to the garden.

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How to Keep it Light

Are you wondering what subjects are acceptable in polite conversation? It seems there are so many pathways leading us into a swamp of quicksand. Here is a broad subject you can safely navigate. Ask about their worst times. Offer up some specifics; the worst meal they created or ate, the worst grade they received in school, the worst motel they stayed in, the worst movie they saw. Chances are time has turned these experiences into humorous events.

I remember my worst sewing mistake. My father was 5’ 11” with a wiry build. His arms belonged on a linebacker, requiring a 36” sleeve. It had become increasingly difficult to find his preferred Western style shirts in a Medium size with a 36” sleeve. I had successfully sewn many tailored shirts, even for my dad. For Christmas 2008, I purchased a bright red denim and found the well-worn pattern in my sewing box. I laid out the pieces, measuring the sleeve length of 36”. I sewed the top-stitching perfectly, aligned the Mother of Pearl snaps with care, added the stitching on the pocket for his ever-present pencil with the clip, and cut the shirttail long, just as he liked.

As I carefully wrapped my gift, I imagined his face brightening into a broad smile as he lifted the lid and unfolded the tissue paper, knowing he would have a shirt that ended at his wrist instead of pulling four inches up his forearm. As he lifted my gift up from the package, I thought the sleeves looked odd. Dad hurriedly removed his 32” sleeved shirt and tried on my gift. We all laughed long and hard. The end of the sleeves reached 2 inches below the tips of his fingers!

crazy sleevesWhat had happened? After some discussion with my mother, I realized I had forgotten men’s sleeves measured from the nape of the neck, not from the shoulder. I promised I would take it home and fix it, but try as I might, it was impossible. He never got another handmade shirt from me, but we still have the precious memory and the photo. I imagine he is laughing even now on the other side as he looks over my shoulder.

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