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Keeping Busy in the Woods

Keeping Busy in the Woods

It’s all starting again.

It’s back-to-school time, and calendars are filling up with practices, games, and events. Activities begin, appointments pile up, and new projects take shape. Even adults without family schedules tied to the school calendar feel the season’s pull.

That “new year” feeling is invigorating, and there’s so much we want to do. Yet all that doing—and thinking—can quickly lead to feeling overscheduled.

That feeling surfaced for me on Labor Day weekend. A huge work project would demand much of my time and attention after the holiday. My September calendar was already dotted with events run by organizations that took a summer break.

A one-hour walk in the Middlesex Fells was enough to soothe me. My husband and I meandered quietly on trails near Whip Hill in Stoneham. Warm afternoon breezes and the thrum of insects in the background lulled me into a meditative state.

We walked through patches of sunlight on paths carpeted with brown pine needles. Lipstick-red dragonflies hovered on twigs and garter snakes slithered into the underbrush.

Soon enough it was time to go. We had plans, but that interlude was enough to lift my spirits.

My positive mood shift reminded me of a New York Times post I read this summer, “How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain.” The story described two academic studies that linked visits to natural areas to lower levels of stress hormones for city residents.

The most recent study, published in June, compared participants who went on a 50-minute urban walk with those who walked for the same amount of time in a natural area. Researchers found that strolling in a natural area reduced anxiety and rumination.

An earlier study, published in May, found that a 90-minute walk through nature led to reduced activity in a part of the brain associated with a risk for mental illness. That study also concluded that visiting nature tamped down the human tendency to ruminate. Unfortunately, like many people, I’m all too familiar with that inclination.

I was relaxed enough while reading the article on the deck of a Cape Cod rental, but the information stayed in the back of my mind. I knew there would be days when I’d need the medicine of a walk in the woods.

There’s a lot of Friends of the Fells events to look forward to this season, such as a Bellevue Pond autumn walk, a tour of Virginia Wood and trail cleanups on National Public Lands Day.

Those are the kinds of calendar commitments that will help me keep everything else in perspective.



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