This Doctor Literally Prescribes Going Outside. Here’s Why. (Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller)

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We’ve all heard it: going outside is good for you. We also know from experience that’s true. From improved health thanks to exercise to simply feeling better after some fresh air, it’s clear that spending time in nature is a good thing, no other evidence required.

But have you ever once had a medical doctor actually prescribe simply heading outside as a solution to a health problem? Unless you see Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller at her Iowa integrated health and OBGYN practice, probably not. But that’s exactly what she does. In this episode she talks about the specific health benefits of getting out in nature, and reveals what it’s like to prescribe nature as a type of medicine, prescription pad and all.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:06] Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller’s favorite outdoor space

[3:30] How Suzanne got into going outside

[8:39] Why Amy and Suzanne both think running is the best-ish

[11:45] Amy knows you don’t want to hear anymore about running and moves on

[12:11] Why going outside is good for you

[16:55] What is a “nature prescription” and how it looks to give one to a patient

[19:31] What Suzanne thinks about dosage and Amy’s 20 minutes

[23:15] An uncanny mindmeld situation where no one copies each other but still has the exact same idea

[26:52] Does what you do outside matter?

[36:00] The importance of nearby nature

[38:11] 3 ways to improve your health with nature starting right now

[43:40] Suzanne’s favorite and most essential outdoor gear

[45:10] Suzanne’s favorite outdoor moment

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Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz 0:52

You’ve heard the term forest bathing before. Maybe you even heard one of our previous episodes with a certified forest therapist Michelle Abbey. But what I bet you haven’t heard is a discussion with a practicing medical doctor and certified forest therapist who both actively practices more traditional medicine and integrates forest therapy into how she treats her patients. That’s, of course, about to change. Today’s guest, Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller is that person; an OBGYN and integrative medicine physician who lives and practices in Iowa. Suzanne is the medical advisor for All Trails and served previously as the medical director for the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy that makes her not only very connected to the practices of forest therapy, but on how heading outside can be a part of your everyday health. Suzanne, welcome to Humans Outside.

Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller 1:48

Thank you, Amy. It’s great to be here.

AB 1:50

I’m really excited about this conversation. So start us off by, how we always start our podcasts by the way, which is imagining ourselves in our guest’s favorite outdoor space, just hanging out having a chat. Describe to us where we are with you today.

SBH 2:06

All right. I love this. So we are at Yosemite National Park. And we have climbed up the lower Yosemite trail to the top where we have seen it was discovered that there is a whole boulder field that if we can cross that boulder field, we will reach a cave, a cavern behind the falls. And so we have traversed the rocks. And we have now found ourselves in this cave behind the falls. So we wandered around back there and then we have come to settle upon one of the great big boulders lying in the sun with the mist from the falls raining down on us and creating a rainbow as we look off into the distance at Half Dome. So this is where we are – in the sun lying on a rock with the waterfall splashing around us.

AB 3:10

This is a great place to hang out. And I hope we’re eating a snack because, as our listeners know, I am pro-snack.

SBH 3:18

Of course we’re having a snack. Excellent.

AB 3:24

Okay, so tell us, how did you become a person who likes to go outside? What is your outdoor story?

SBH 3:29

Yeah, my outdoor story evolved over the course of a childhood that involved a lot of outdoor play and parents who took us camping, that was our mode of transportation and travel as kids. I did a lot of biking as a kid and canoeing and kayaking, and all of those things. But then all of that took a backseat while I was going through college and medical school and residency and busy. Although I did find some time to do those things during that period of my life. But really, when it struck me was in 2012 after my husband Dave had passed away, and I found that I was just in this tailspin of life trying to figure out what was up and what was down and what direction to go both professionally and personally, taking care of kids and step kids and my husband’s company and a medical practice and all of these different things and and dealing with my own grief. And I found that I just found myself drawn to being outdoors and I found that I needed to be outdoors for my own personal healing. And at first my outdoor time was all about the adventure and, and the adrenaline and I think that was metaphorical too because I started with running and I’ve often thought back and thought yeah, I was absolutely running from my problem. Both literally and figuratively, just trying to run from them. And I never had been a runner before that, but that’s what I found myself doing. And then I discovered this concept of trail running. And I thought — well, that’s wild. I never even knew people did this and discovered that I enjoyed that more than running on pavement. And then I really discovered that I love mountain biking, and found myself again, just doing all of these outdoor adventurous pursuits, started training to do adventure triathlons, which were mountain biking, trail running and kayaking. And all of it was about the adrenaline and being outdoors and go, go, go. Naturally, as we all know, one can only sustain an adrenaline rush for so long. And at some point, in this process, I recognized that I needed more balance. I had been practicing yoga for a number of years by that time, and realized there must be some way to kind of combine the two and have better balance. I just happened to be reading an Oprah Magazine in 2014. And one of the back articles was about Ms. Clifford and the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and this idea of forest bathing. And that was one of those aha moments when I realized — oh my gosh, that’s what I’ve been doing kind of, but I need to learn more about this. And so I did, I requested a little booklet and then I started experimenting with people with patients who would attend workshops that I was holding, and just started kind of experimenting with little forest bathing walks, even though I had no training other than this little guide that I had gotten. And I discovered that it was really, really something that these people resonated with. And people were returning and wanting more and asking more. And I was finding that it was very healing for myself. And that was really how it all began. And I connected with Amos Clifford and became certified as a forest therapy guide, and as you mentioned, served as medical director of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and continue to work with them directly. And then all kinds of other things have sort of expanded from there, just looking also into how nature affects our health and especially during the past year, I think as you alluded to, we have been recognizing that we need outdoor time.

AB 7:40

Yeah. So our listeners know that I usually chat with my guests ahead of time and sort of warn you about what questions I’m going to ask. I’m going to go off script here a little bit because you mentioned something in your outdoor story that I really want to follow up on. You talked about running. And I have a near identical experience with that sort of being one of the ways that I first started spending time outside was by running and a lot of it had to do with healing from trauma. And so I’ve found myself wondering just even over the last day or two prior to this recording, what is up with that, and why running specifically? Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for me, is so key to that experience of nature to that getting outside. And I’m wondering, it doesn’t have to do with what your brain is doing? Does it have to do with what your body is doing? Can you shed any light on that for a curious runner?

SBH 8:39

Oh my gosh, I don’t know that I have all the answers. I’ve talked to a lot of runners. In fact, I interviewed a number of runners for my book. And talked to them about why trail running as opposed to marathon running or you know, running on pavement or running on a track or running on a treadmill. And all of the people I talked to said there was something special about running in nature. And, you know, is it the phytoncides that we inhale from the trees that boosts our spirits and our immune system and all of those kinds of things? What is it and then, you know, just running in general, as you mentioned, I think certainly I know I experienced an adrenaline rush. That was definitely what I was seeking at first. And I do think there’s something kind of metaphorical about running away from things. You know, when you’re in the middle of something really difficult and heavy. You I anyway tend to think a lot about running away from it and how can I run away and I know I can’t run away. But there’s something that feels like running away when you’re running even if you ultimately come back to what you’re dealing with. But yeah, I don’t know honestly, what do you think?

AB 9:59

I wonder if it’s not a combination of everything you just said, you know that some running is better than no running. But if there’s a continuum, like, get me off the treadmill and outside, and if I can be outside, please put me next to a tree, not in the cityscape. Right, but yeah, cityscape’s what I have, then that sounds great. Um, and I know that your brain has that fascination or that moment where you’re turning off, right, you’re not thinking about the things that are, that are swirling, because you’re running. Um, so that’s sort of healing and then also add the adrenaline and dopamine, and all that good feeling stuff. And all is better. And this is why people who run a lot want to run more, and people who aren’t used to running, perhaps don’t like it as much, because you do get used to it, your body gets used to it, and it becomes not as hard. Everything is hard when you cannot breathe.

SBH 11:00

So yeah, you’re so right, and my experience of running – it’s not my favorite outdoor activity – my experience has been that if I stick with it for maybe two or three weeks, I do start to get to that point where I enjoy it. And then I’ve never been a fast runner. But it’s the distance that if I can spend enough time on a run, I’ll get to that point where I lose myself in it. And I achieve that sense of kind of the flow state where you are just you know, you’re immersed in the experience, and you’re not thinking about it, you’re not counting every step and every breath and you’re just flowing. And I think that’s what we all seek in our everyday lives is to find that state of flow in something.

AB 11:44

Okay, enough about running because our non running listeners hate it.

Alright, so talk to us. Let’s talk about outdoors in general. Okay, yeah, can you give us a little bit of background on why heading outside is good for your health? And I know that’s very broad, because I think we intuitively know and have heard going outside is good for you. Right?

SBH 12:11

I talk about this all the time with people, like we know intuitively that we’re drawn to the outdoors, we have evolved over the past 300,000 years on this planet living outdoors. And it’s only been within the last 200 years that we’ve increasingly spent more time indoors. And honestly, our human little bodies are not capable of evolving or changing that fast to be able to tolerate being indoors. So really, this is something that’s deeply ingrained in us – this need to be outdoors. But I think a lot of people need more proof than that. Like why, like you just said, Isn’t it good to be inside and safe from all of the elements? And all of these things? Isn’t that better? And yes, of course, if there’s a threatening weather situation, then obviously shelter is important. But we do know that we need to be outdoors and increasingly science is finding out why. So we could talk about all kinds of different reasons. One thing we need is vitamin D, which we get from the sun. And the more I studied vitamin D, the more I’m amazed at how it affects every single system in our body, including definitely mental health. So it’s something that we absolutely need. So that’s something that people who are indoors all the time. You know, I live in the Midwest, you live in Alaska, we do not get enough sun in these places, no matter what and when we are outside, many of us are using sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. And so when I check my patients’ vitamin D levels, everybody is deficient – everybody. So that’s the thing. One is we have to be outside, we have to get vitamin D. And if we don’t get it from the sun, we should probably be supplementing. But again, that’s another aside we could go off on. We know that being in the presence of trees allows us to inhale these phytoncides that I mentioned just a minute ago, and these are chemicals that are found in the essential oils that have been found to help our immune system they actually increase our natural killer cell number and level of activity in the body and natural killer cells are these immune system cells that sweep through our system, finding bacteria and viruses and even tumor cells. And when they find them, they gobble them up and allow our body to excrete them. And so just even being in the presence of trees helps to boost our immune system. I mean, I could go on and on about different kinds of studies. There was a study done in 2019 that looked at adults spending 20 to 30 minutes in nature, and found that when they did this, as opposed to being in an urban setting, that they’re salivary, cortisol and salivary alpha amylase, which are both bio markers of stress, they found that both of these chemicals were reduced after just 20 to 30 minutes, outdoors in nature. So, that’s something, you know that that’s starting to look at what kind of dose we need. What we can get more into, if you’re interested, there are studies looking at soil, being in contact with the soi. Being out in nature, we ingest and inhale these little particles from the soil that contain a bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae. And it’s been found that when they introduced this bacteria to mice, that mice are able to navigate a maze, twice as fast as those that were not exposed to this bacteria. So we know that this bacteria helps our cognition and memory and, and just again, all these little snippets of things that we’re finding, whether it’s from the trees, or the soil, or the sun, or the water, or the electrons are negatively charged particles and water that that helps to balance free radicals in our system, all of these things are good for us.

AB 16:31

I understand you give nature prescriptions, and I want to know what that means when you do that, and how that looks for a variety of people. I am imagining you whipping out a prescription pad, and crawling likely, illegibly because you are a doctor — go outside — on said pad. So tell us about prescribing nature, what does that look like?

SBH 16:55

I prescribe it in a variety of ways. I often hold events that are outside that I invite patients to join me. I do Walk with a Doc which are regular walks, where people just come out and join us and walk. I host forest bathing walks. And so I invite people to come and join me on things like that. I’m all about trying to lead by example, and trying to do things with my patients. We do cooking classes and things like that, just like, you know, let’s let’s all do this together. We’re all in this together after all. So that’s one way and I’ll just post information about activities and events that way. Yes, I sometimes do literally write on a prescription pad that I would like you to spend this amount of time this many days per week doing this activity that you get to choose with no other agenda other than that, and report back to me how this works for you. And then I also have some patients where I simply say, you know, I want you to start prioritizing getting outside, let me know how that goes. And honestly, I’ve had patients who come back, this happened not too long ago, a patient of mine who has been my patient for 10 or 12 years, and who deals with quite a bit of anxiety. And I said, you know — why don’t you start taking a regular walk outside? And she came back three months later and said — by the way, you prescribed that I get outside on a regular basis, I took that to heart. And I just have to tell you that that has been the single most helpful advice I’ve ever gotten from a doctor or a therapist ever for managing my anxiety. And that really blew me away. Honestly, this person has had all kinds of guidance in terms of her anxiety and medications and everything and to say that was really something and I believe it.

AB 19:11

Yeah. So when you prescribe, what kind of dosage are we talking about here? That’s what we talk about here is sort of encouraging folks to to look at the 20 minutes as a benchmark. But you know, we’re open to suggestions

SBH 19:31

So there are a number of studies that seem to be kind of falling on that 20 to 30 minute per day mark. Although there is one study that was then replicated that looked at college students spending just five minutes outdoors in a natural setting, unplugged from their devices and found that they overwhelmingly reported improvements in all parameters and mental health. They replicated that study and increased the duration of time to 15 minutes and found that that did not offer any added benefit beyond the five minutes. So to me, that’s remarkable. So when I hear people say they just don’t have time to do even 20 minutes. First of all, I think that’s ridiculous. Because we all just, we all have the same number of minutes and every day, and it’s a matter of scheduling our time and prioritizing what’s important to us. But for those people, I say, then give it five minutes and see if you don’t feel better, spending five minutes unplugged, outdoors, per day. So if you can do more than five minutes, yes, there is definitely something about that 20 minutes. And I mentioned that salivary cortisol study that found that 20 minutes improved those stress biomarkers. And so there are other studies that are looking at different amounts of time. And what they seem to kind of be coming to is this idea that it’s about 120 minutes per week. And if you divide that out, that’s 17 minutes per day, if you add, if you go as high as 150 minutes per week, that’s about 30 minutes per day. And so these studies are all kind of hovering around that amount of time. And so I think you’re right on 20 minutes, give it 20 minutes per day.

AB 21:30

I have to say, when I picked that number in 2017, there were not some of the studies that are out now, they had not been done yet or published yet. And it was very much like — Well, that seems like a good midpoint. Some of the things I’d read, and I sort of lean towards closer 20 than five, because, frankly, if you’re going to bother putting on that many jackets to go outside in Alaska, it should be for more than five minutes.

SBH 22:01

This is a trick I use with my patients, I will say you only have to tell yourself, you’re going to do five minutes, or you only have to walk to the end of the driveway or the end of the block or the mailbox or whatever. But I will always tell them, what you might find is after you’ve gone to the trouble of getting bundled up putting on your shoes doing all this and you want that five minutes. Once you’re out there, you might discover that this does feel pretty good. Maybe I’ll go a little further or stay out a little longer. Yeah, sometimes that little get out the door or put on your shoes. For me if I put on a sports bra, I’m going to use it or, it makes me very angry at the end of the day.

AB 22:47

And the other thing is, I personally found that I don’t want to say tolerance because it makes it sound like it’s a bad thing. Perhaps that is the right word in the winter when things are very, very cold. But I find that 20 minutes no longer seems as long as it once did. And that I’m suddenly wandering around the woods for 30 minutes without even knowing.

SBH 23:16

Exactly. That’s what happens. And I think I think that’s great. Yeah, I started a challenge on Instagram a couple years ago, called outdoor adventure 365. That’s the hashtag if anyone wants to join us and I challenge people to just spend five minutes outdoors during whatever weather all year round and post about it. And I had a number of people who did it and did it faithfully every single day of the entire year and some who are continuing to do it. And I just love it. It’s like, you know, suck it up, bundle up and get outside.

AB 23:53

It works. Yeah, I swear to God, I’m not copying you. Nor do I think you’re copying me. But our hashtag is humans outside 365

SBH 24:01

I love it. I did not even realize that. Yeah, channeling each other.

AB 24:09

I started that in September 2017. So maybe, I don’t know. That’s so great.

SBH 24:15

Well, I tried to kind of spin it off of my book, which is Outdoor Adventurer’s Guide to Forest Bathing.

AB 24:28

There’s nothing new under the sun. When you’re doing something and you find that other people are doing the same thing without even knowing it, I think it’s just the sign of a good idea.

SBH 24:39

I also believe that if you know, well, this is a little woowoo but part of the collective consciousness and the universe speaking to us, which I do believe that we all you know, we’re all kind of in this situation where the planet is ailing, and people are ailing. And we need to get something figured out here. And so I do think it’s, we’re all kind of on the same wavelength, those of us who are in this space.

AB 25:16

So I want to circle back to something you said a few minutes ago about a study of college students outside for five minutes and leaving behind their devices. So I want to talk about if you know broadly, if you’re heading outside, specifically to be healthier, doesn’t matter what you’re doing there. And then more narrowly, the unplugging factor on that. So right for example, can being outside and watching a bird be better or worse or the same as being outside and going for a walk? Or, you know, and then drilling down into the unplugging discussion, which I feel like is a discussion and and I say that in sort of a self deprecating way? Because I’m famously bad at that.

SBH 26:52

Well, first off, increasingly, studies are finding that you do what you like to do. And that’s where the magic happens. So if for you, it’s running, wonderful. If it’s sitting on a park bench for somebody else, that’s perfect. It’s birdwatching – wonderful. If it’s surfing, mountain biking, whatever it is, that is your thing. That seems to be the right answer. So it doesn’t mean that you should take up a new hobby, or that if you have physical reasons that you can’t be a trail runner. You know, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t necessarily about exercise, although we do know that exercising in nature has particular benefits. But there are benefits to health, mental and physical health in just plain being outdoors, even if you’re just sitting outdoors. So I think that’s exciting and speaks to how inclusive this is that there’s something for everyone out in nature. You can’t do it wrong.

AB 28:02

Okay, so judge me, unplugging.

SBH 28:07

So there are two sides of the technology coin. First of all, I never recommend that anybody goes out, especially alone without their phone. I think, you know, although there are times you might think that you have a phone and realize you don’t have cell service. So there’s always that. But for safety reasons, I think it’s a really important idea to have a phone. I think it’s interesting that there are apps like Alltrails, which we’ve mentioned, I do some advising for them. And those apps allow you to use a map in case you get lost. They allow you to share your itinerary and your plan with somebody else. You potentially can be tracked if you get lost, things like that. So some of those things are great. There are also some apps on phones that can be very helpful for identifying wildlife or things like that. And so I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a phone. I think it’s probably a very good idea to have a phone. However, you often will see people walking down a trail staring at their phone. It’s like — oh my goodness, put it away for just 20 minutes and allow yourself to have to just disconnect from that. I think we do need to reset and nature is the perfect way to do that.

AB 29:25

Yeah, my fatal flaw. Okay, confession time, two fatal flaws. One is I do get distracted with my phone while out going on a walk. Sort of famously almost walking into a moose because I was texting. This is like a strong warning situation. Like, really, Amy? Come on. Like it’s a giant moose. Right there. You didn’t see it. My second fatal flaw on this is that I, despite preaching that I know we all have time to spend time outside etc, I still will have been caught taking my laptop outside on my porch and working in the sun. And I work all the time. You know. So I wonder again, selfishly for myself on that continuum, which is better? I guess the big question is, is any outdoor time better than no outdoor?

SBH 30:25

I think so. And I spend as much time working outdoors as possible, I would live outside, you know, 90% of the time, if I could. And I would argue that you’re still deriving health benefits even if you’re sitting outside on your laptop. So I remember as a medical student, I would go to a park and sit in a shelter and study. I found that to be much better if I could get away with it than sitting in a building, a library or a dorm room or something. I think all outdoor time is good for us.

AB 31:04

Yeah. Well, thank you for defending my honor.

SBH 31:08

Yes. And, you know, it’s hard, because we’re all so darn available on our phones, that it’s so easy to get a text and then feel like we have to respond to it. I do try sometimes to put my phone on Do Not Disturb. And I figure you know what, I can do that for 20 minutes. You know, if the people in your inner circle need to reach you, they can call you. And if they’re in your favorites on your phone, it’s going to go through and I have to remind myself of that. It’s tough. We live in a really connected world.

AB 31:49

Have you seen America’s understanding of the place of spending time outside change? Since COVID?

SBH 31:57

Yes, we have. I’m going to walk as I talk to you, because I have a statistic that is written down over here. So initially, when the pandemic started, there was an enormous surge of people heading outdoors. And, and there was actually a study that I believe was done by the Forest Service. Initially, during the pandemic, I found it initially in June of 2020, there was a 54% increase in usage of parks. And then that did change such that by early March of 2021, there was a decrease of 26% lower than baseline. So I’m not sure what that is attributed to – I don’t know if anybody really knows or if, you know, part of that is winter, although not all parts of the country are terrible in winter. But so I don’t know, initially, there was a huge surge of people heading outdoors, and it did seem to change somewhat. I don’t know what that was from.

AB 33:13

Hmm. Interesting. All right. I guess we’ll, we’ll see as it goes forward. You know, I wonder if like, people aren’t just interested in going outside due to lack of other options. And when the other options came back again, you know, back to the movie theater, we went.

SBH 33:30

I think that’s probably a large part of it. But certainly in the recreation industry, you can barely buy a bicycle right now, you can barely buy recreational vehicles, there’s a huge increase in interest in those types of things, which suggests that people are still planning to spend time outdoors. I really think when I talk to people, I’m sensing that people have found a renewed interest in being outdoors. So I’m a little curious about those numbers. I’ll be curious to see what further studies and numbers do bear out over time. Because my perception still is that there are more people outdoors. How about yours in terms of where you live?

AB 34:14

Yeah, I would say that that there certainly seems to be a higher interest, but you know what they say about noticing things that you’re interested in?

SBH 34:25

Well, I know that in March, April, May of last year, there were so many people outdoors. You know, my husband and family and I spend a lot of time on our trails. We’re around regardless of whether we’re in a pandemic. But last spring, I mean, the trails were packed with people and the litter was terrible. There was just a definite surge of people who weren’t typically using the trails that were out on the trails and some problems with misuse and things like that.

AB 34:59

Yeah. So that’s that’s an interesting segue into something else I was wondering about, which is this idea of nearby nature. So we kind of have this, the pandemic showed us that we can utilize nature right outside our front door. One of the things that Americans sort of have misconceptions about, at least in the past is this idea that to head into nature, you have to trot off to some spectacular place, be that you know, visiting a national park or moving your family to Alaska. Guilty as charged. Can you talk to us about nearby nature and how it and forest therapy fit together?

SBH 35:38

Right, and I’m guessing you probably had some conversation with Dr. Cathy Wolf about this. I

can’t wait to hear that whole podcast. She is the authority on this subject. And she and I have worked together a lot during this past year. So we’ve had a number of conversations about the idea of nearby nature. So absolutely, during the pandemic, people were confined to their homes. And in some cases, that meant that they only had access to their backyard, or their front yard, or their balcony, or their stoop or their porch or something like that. And in different parts of the country and different parts of the world, this looked different. We never had an actual stay at home order where I live. However, there was a time when certain places were closed. And so there was a lot of unknown and a lot of unrest. So people were starting to look at what nature is a little bit differently. And it is interesting to think about the idea that — Wow, it would be great to head off to a natural national park for a week. But I don’t have time or resources to do that. Or maybe I can’t because we’re in a pandemic. But can I still derive the same benefits from either a city park or my own backyard? And I believe what we’re finding is absolutely yes. And you can have an experience of nature, in your own backyard or on your porch, or even from indoors, gazing outdoors, or from interacting with a potted plant indoors. And so I’ve done a lot of experimenting personally with all of those different things. And I think that it’s absolutely true.

AB 37:36

So interesting. It’s just a reminder that out of challenges, there’s always a silver lining out of things. Right. I think that that’s one of those silver linings of this experience that we’ve had there’s been so many really hard things that people have experienced and all of those things can be real along with you know, once in a while stumbling upon a good thing like this, right?

SBH 38:01

I think so.

AB 38:03

Can you give listeners three or four ways to improve their health with nature starting right this hot second?

SBH 38:11

Yes. As you’re listening, perhaps you could look out the window where you are, perhaps you could find a tree and start just by looking at the base of the tree and slowly even over the course of maybe five minutes to slowly gaze up that tree and just see what you notice as you do that. And as you just slow things way down with the thought of taking five minutes to gaze up that tree. That’s something that I thought of as I’m sitting here and you asked that because I’m looking outdoors at a white pine through my window. Something else that people could do is try just the five minutes unplugged or the 20 minutes unplugged just sitting outside doing nothing. We have a practice in forest therapy called sit spot, which involves taking 20 minutes outdoors, unplugged, ideally leaving your phone inside and ideally even doing this close to home for 20 minutes. And just with no agenda, just noticing what you notice. And as part of our forest therapy guide training, we had to do this two times per week and I always thought that there was not going to be anything to see or experience on my 20 minutes sit spot. And I would always feel like I had more to do and didn’t have time to do sit spot. I should get home from work and be making supper and not going outside and sitting for 20 minutes. You know, it caused me stress to think that I had this. However, my family would force me to do it and obviously, every single time I did it, I would have an amazing experience. And we were to journal about it afterwards, which of course, ended up being a great experience also. And so I do encourage people to try sit spot. I did sit spot through the pandemic, in some of the most unusual places just to see if it would work. I did sit spot with a potted plant. For 20 minutes, I saw more going on, and no idea there were teeny tiny, tiny little insects in my potted plant. And I did sit spot on a sidewalk with a dandelion and an anthill for 20 minutes and had an amazing experience. And so this spot can be really healing and enjoyable and good for us. So that’s something that people can do that was two or maybe three, I don’t know, I can go on and on.

AB 40:55

That’s great. I recently inadvertently did a sit spot in my hot tub outside. We did a little challenge where we tried around the National Day of Unplugging to unplug for our outdoor time for a week. And just I mean, flat out leaving your phone wherever it stashed. And so that meant for me that I was leaving my phone inside while I went and sat in the hot tub. Now, I’ll tell you, hot tub, not that entertaining, right? There’s nothing going on out there. It’s just me and you know, my phone. So to leave that behind, you know, maybe a friend comes over whatever right – to leave that behind to go in there to sit there for 20 minutes doing nothing. It’s very anti Amy, but it was fantastic. You know, the time went by much faster than I thought it would. And it was a practice that I’ve replicated since then. Yesterday, I sat on my porch for more than 20 minutes and watched water melting. Have you ever watched snow melt?

SBH 42:06

Yeah, I definitely have watched snow melt. I live in Iowa, remember?

AB 42:10

Transfixing. It reminded me of watching a bonfire that you know where you’re just like staring at the fire and you can’t stop. And then you really want to poke it with a stick? Yeah.

SBH 42:27

That’s really cool. I love it. I’m afraid we don’t have any snow left, which I am really happy for. Otherwise, I would go try that right now.

AB 42:34

We’re recording this in mid April. And I don’t want to talk about it.

SBH 42:45

Well, you’re heading into the sunny period of time in Alaska. So that would be great.

AB 42:51

So the past is indicated and so they claim, but I remain a non-believer until it’s proven itself because it was snowing again today. So there you go. All right. So I mean, I really do think we could talk about this all day, because clearly who we are as people. But instead of doing that, because we value your time so much, and no one really wants to listen to us if we’re being honest, we’re gonna shut this down the same way we always shut down our podcast episodes, talking about a couple of your favorite things, including your favorite outdoor moment. So first talk to us. Do you have any like gear or outdoor items or anything like that – could be a good attitude, could be snacks, could be something you actually bought – that makes your outdoor time the best it can be?

SBH 43:42

It’s funny because you gave me these questions in advance. And I’ve been racking my brain and you know, whenever you have to pick your favorite of something you can’t because everything is your favorite. But the thing that I would not be able to live without is my mountain bike. And my husband and I take our mountain bikes everywhere we go when we travel, we fly them with us. If we can’t take our own, we will rent other people’s mountain bikes if we have to. We always take mountain bikes. And so I think it is not only my favorite outdoor piece of gear, it’s probably my most necessary.

AB 44:20

Yes, I love it. That’s great. And it’s a good reminder that you can find a piece of equipment or sport or something that you like, that just really fits you. You like to mountain bike and that is the thing you need, you know. I travel and rent a car.

SBH 44:42

But also when I travel, I always make sure to take running shoes, because I can run anywhere. And I’ve found in the past that if I don’t do that and I end up at some place where there’s no other real opportunity for activity if I’m at a conference or something, you could always go out and run. And so I always, always make sure to pack a pair of running shoes, no matter where I go.

AB 45:10

Yeah, such a good tip. Okay, now, final thing. Close us out with your favorite outdoor moment. If you’re going to close your eyes, imagine yourself and your favorite outdoor moment ever, take us there.

SBH 45:24

We were there earlier when we started. And that was a hike that my kids and I did in 2015. And it was one of those moments that whenever I’m in some kind of guided imagery, and they say pick your most beautiful outdoor place and imagine yourself there, that is where I go. Another one is a time that my husband and I camped in a tent in Joshua Tree National Park and listened to the owls at night and the coyotes in the morning and the whole place was absolutely serene, and I go to that place as well.

AB 46:02

Thank you so much for your time recording this episode today and sharing your expertise with the Humans Outside audience. We appreciate you.

SBH 46:10

Thank you so much for having me.

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