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Markowitz: Outdoors As Political Antidote

It seems like every time I turn on the news there’s another story about the Russian investigation, possible leaks of classified information, denials, explanations, and alternative facts. This comes after months of environmental rollbacks, healthcare cuts and attacks on basic civil rights.  It’s getting hard to bear!

As my millennial kids tell me, when you get stressed out – it’s time for some “self-care.”    

So yesterday, I woke up at the crack of dawn, with the excuse of going turkey hunting. I sat in a friend’s back field listening to the world wake up.  The calls of the birds were deafening – matched only by the slap of a beaver’s tail – warning me to stay away from it’s babies.  It was peaceful, and restorative, and although I saw few signs of the Tom I was after, it was a perfect way to start the day.  

My experience of de-stressing by spending time in the natural environment is not unique. According to a report published by the National Academy of Sciences, there’s growing evidence that nature provides mental health benefits.

Access to the outdoors, including urban green spaces, have been associated with lower levels of stress and fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Researchers found that spending time in nature can restore mental energy, improve concentration and even boost memory.

Time in nature also makes us healthier. We’ve long been aware of its effect on heart disease and diabetes, but a recent study found that women who were exposed to green environments had a 12% lower risk of death from cancer, lung disease, and kidney disease.

As more of the world's population are living in cities, they are spending less time exposed to nature. This trend has potentially very serious implications for their long-term health and well-being. We’re lucky, here in Vermont, to have so many green places to choose from.

The State of Vermont manages nearly 400,000 acres of land for public use.  This includes 52 developed State Parks, 80 Wildlife Management Areas, hundreds of thousands of acres of State Forest. Other conservation organizations, like the Nature Conservancy and the Vermont Land Trust, open their land for public access as well.

So, whether you like to hike, swim, bike, paddle, bird watch, fish or just look at beautiful scenery, take advantage of what Vermont has to offer.  It will be good for you – body, mind and spirit.

Deb Markowitz is the Director of Policy Outreach at UVM’s Gund Institute of Environment, and she formerly served as Vermont’s Secretary of State and as the Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.
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