June 10, 2019 Healthy Living

The Health Benefits of Being Outside

Sometime around 2002, as a college student at McGill University, I had an epiphany that I carry with me to this day. As a full-time student who never quite mastered effective time-management skills, I was feeling incredibly stressed and overwhelmed. Luckily, at some point, I realized that when I spent more time outside, everything suddenly became more manageable. I attributed this to the fact that I was an “outdoorsy person” who had had been inside studying more than I was accustomed to. As it turns out, spending time outdoors can be good for everyone.

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Recently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation highlighted the many health benefits derived from getting outside in a natural environment. Interestingly, the study found that access to green spaces in urban areas can be just as beneficial as rural forests. So, even if you can’t make it to the Adirondack or Catskill Mountains, you can still reap the therapeutic rewards of nature right here in the Capital Region. There are many local options, including municipal parks, community gardens, and my favorite nature spot – the Pine Hollow Arboretum, which features trees from around the world on 22 acres in Slingerlands, New York, where I serve as executive director.

There is a Japanese term, “Shinrin-Yoku,” which translates to “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It’s a very simple concept: a person spends time walking or sitting in a natural area in a relaxed state to improve their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Dedicated time outdoors, among trees, can provide many health benefits, including a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, reduced stress, increased focus (studies suggest it is helpful for children with ADHD), accelerated recovery from illness, higher energy levels, and improved sleep.

As the full-time executive director of a growing non-profit and the mom of three energetic young children, I can personally attest to the therapeutic effects of time spent immersed in nature. Shortly after our third child was born, I started working at the Arboretum full-time. Up until this point, I had been a volunteer and a part-time employee.

A few months after starting back full-time, the founder of our organization and my mentor, Dr. John Abbuhl, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Aside from being the pediatrician to two generations of Capital Region residents and the visionary who created the Arboretum, Dr. Abbuhl was also a charismatic, generous, and kind person who was an incredibly significant figure in my life. To be completely honest, when he passed away in January 2018, it was really, really tough.

Suddenly, on top of my family responsibilities, I was working through my own personal grief while attempting to navigate our organization through a period of abrupt transition.  It was a little stressful to say the least. Remembering the epiphany I had years ago, and drawing upon newer knowledge of the therapeutic benefits of forest bathing, I took to the woods. I tried my best to forget about my professional responsibilities to the Arboretum, like scouting for deer damage or fallen trees, and focused on absorbing the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations the land offered.

Today, I can’t say that I am never stressed, but I do know that the quickest way for me to feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally is to walk the trails among the thousands of trees at the Pine Hollow Arboretum.

I am so thrilled that the Arboretum will soon be launching two new CDPHP-sponsored health and wellness trails: “Woodland Way” and the “Tranquility Trail.” These two trail loops represent the first steps to the Pine Hollow Arboretum fulfilling its potential as a site for preventative and restorative health and wellness initiatives for all. The support we have received from CDPHP will have an impact far greater than just the establishment of these two trails. We look forward to increasing accessibility to and within the Arboretum as we move forward, so that more people can benefit from “forest bathing” and the unique community asset that is the Pine Hollow Arboretum.

We have events going on year round. Come check us out!

About the Pine Hollow Arboretum

The Pine Hollow Arboretum (PHA) is a 22-acre public arboretum located in residential Slingerlands, New York. In 1966, founder John W. Abbuhl began planting trees around his residence to create an attractive setting. His affinity for the land, interest in horticulture and love of trees combined to inspire the creation of Pine Hollow. Dr. Abbuhl, a retired pediatrician, has used the guiding philosophy of “trees in a natural setting” to establish the arboretum as a unique entity within the community of nationally accredited arboreta.

Pine Hollow’s cataloged collection, or “living library,” consists of over 3,600 unique trees, shrubs, and other woody plants from around the world, some of which are rare and/or endangered. The collection represents over 180 genera and is aesthetically arranged by origin in a natural setting that includes 11 ponds and an Eastern White Pine forest. A network of walking trails and bridges throughout the preserve allows visitors of all ages to enjoy the grounds. The Pine Hollow Arboretum is FREE and open to the public 365 days a year, from dawn until dusk.

Lauren Axford
About the Author

Lauren was born and raised in North Carolina and arrived in the Capital Region via Montreal and New York City. Prior to becoming the Pine Hollow Arboretum’s first executive director, she was a horticulturist for the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation’s Natural Resources Group, where she grew native species of grasses and wildflowers for use in ecological restoration projects. Lauren is also a life-long musician and resides with her husband Brian and their children Isis Evangeline, James, and Eden in Voorheesville.

2 Responses to “The Health Benefits of Being Outside”

  1. Ray Henrikson

    I contribute to the Arboretum and I enjoy my visits there.

    • Lauren Axford

      Hi Ray – Thank you for reaching out! We’re so glad you enjoy Pine Hollow Arboretum and hope you get a chance to check out our new CDPHP health and wellness trails soon.

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