A week of gratitude – finding peace in nature

Being outdoors has always been one of my favorite places. From simple play in my childhood backyard to trail rides on horses to fishing on a quiet lake, being in nature seemed like ‘second nature’ to me. I didn’t think much about it because my parents were always encouraging us to ‘go outside and play.’

It wasn’t until I got to college that I consciously sought to spend more time outdoors as it became a comfortable respite for me from the busy, sometimes overwhelming world of learning to be an adult.

I ran a lot in college, through neighborhoods and local trails, in an effort to stay in shape but also let the fresh air clear my brain. When bone cancer took my femur (replaced with a titanium rod), running became a restricted/can’t do activity. I shared previously that I once spent 17 days in the hospital sick with an infection from chemo. On day 14, when I felt like the walls were closing in on me, my oncologist let me spend an hour in the hospital garden, and the fresh air, blue skies, soft breeze, singing birds and bright flowers revitalized my spirit and locked in my love of the outdoors. From that moment on, I find myself getting restless and foggy brain if I’m indoors for too long.

I’m grateful for the opportunities to spend outdoors. From walking my neighborhood to hiking in Alaska to biking across Iowa, I love being active outside. I’m thankful for the benefits that I receive from spending time in nature. Here are a few:

Being outdoors helps clear my brain and calm my emotions. There is a lot of research demonstrating that being in nature does mentally and emotionally benefit us. This past summer, I made a point of trying to bike every Friday afternoon or Saturday morning as a way to decompress after busy work weeks. When I find myself overthinking an issue or situation (What? Me overthink? Ha), I head outdoors for a walk, hike, bike ride or sometimes simply sitting on the grass beside a lake, and within a few minutes I feel better.

I get a great workout. You all know by now that I’m a big proponent of a healthy, active lifestyle. There isn’t an excuse for not getting up and moving, even a few minutes daily, with the health benefits being so good. One of my favorite things about going on a walk, hike, bike ride, canoe paddle is that I enjoy the activity a lot, AND I’m getting the benefits of a workout. Yes, I am at times sore and tired after a 25-mile bike ride, but half the time I enjoy the ride so much that I forget I’m working out! Or a several mile hike goes quickly because I’m caught up looking for nature and appreciating the beauty around me. This summer, I had a great thing happen – one morning I walked by my full length mirror wearing my PJ shorts, glanced in the mirror and stopped. My leg muscles had become really toned! I was having so much fun during my activities that I didn’t realize how much my body was positively changing!

It’s a reminder to appreciate the simple things surrounding us. There is beauty in small and great, all around us. I can’t tell you how many times I smile when I come across a family of deer, watch squirrels play, marvel at bright colors of wildflowers or simply feel a light breeze brush my hair. In a world with so much materialism or wanting everything that someone else has or wasting so many resources, it’s really nice to be surrounded by trees, bushes, flowers, water,  wildlife and more.

I’m grateful to be able to enjoy the outdoors and nature. I wish more people would stop to appreciate that which surrounds us. I fear too many take this beauty and resource for granted. We don’t protect the outdoors enough, and I worry someday the damage will be too great to save, that generations behind me won’t know how amazing this simple, yet impactful appreciation is for us. We all should be thankful for the great outdoors.

Do you like spending time outdoors? What is one of your favorite activities to do outside?

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