The Good Outdoors

by Lindy Zupko

Besides physical health benefits, being active, especially outdoors, is a great way to relieve your stress and improve your mood. Another upside: it’s easy to both feel good and do good.

A good way to start is close to home, with acts of kindness that may not take all that much time but could mean a lot to someone else. Reach out to elderly or disabled neighbors, for example, to see if they might need help with physical tasks. It can be as simple as offering to walk their dog or, if you live in a colder climate, to clear snow from a driveway or a car. Just remember to layer your clothing because it’s amazing how fast one can overheat when shoveling. Pair a fleece with a softshell jacket, or wear a 3-in-1 jacket so you can shed layers as you heat up.

A picture of a grabber picking up litter from a pond.

Go For a “Plog”

You can also pick up the pace and trash at the same time by “plogging.” Born in Stockholm, this activity consists of picking up trash while jogging (the term is based on “plocka upp,” Swedish for picking up). It even adds benefits to jogging because it promotes increased flexibility. A great thing about it is that it requires very little by way of extra gear — a pair of gloves and some bags — and can be done solo or in a group.

Just Add Water

Australian swimmers have launched “strawkling,” which is similar to plogging but underwater: snorkelers pick up plastic straws littering the ocean. In the United States, you can find initiatives where snorkelers, divers and surfers help clean oceans and beaches. You don’t necessarily have to get wet to help, though: River cleanups, for instance, dispatch volunteers to clean banks from litter and debris. (As with all the activities listed here, check online for possible restrictions due to Covid-19.)

A close up picture of a person holding a shovel shoveling snow.

Get Invested in Your Environment

In general, giving back to our planet is a great way to enjoy nature while helping with its upkeep. Most communities have parks that require cleaning or sprucing up, so all you need is to ask around your neighborhood and see how you can contribute. Having equity in your surroundings builds a sense of belonging.

And there are opportunities are every level, from the smallest community garden all the way to the national parks, via greenbelts and state parks. Did you know that the iconic Appalachian Trail relies on a network of local groups and volunteers for its upkeep? The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, for instance, maintains about 100 miles in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Nantahala National Forest. Similar opportunities exist on the two other National Scenic Trails that make up the Triple Crown: the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide. The American Hiking Society even runs volunteer vacations if you want to combine travel, outdoor recreation, and helping out.

Team Up with Your Community

Mountain bikers can be in friendly competition with hikers for trail space, but they also join in maintenance and cleanup work, with campaigns such as Take Care of Your Trails, in Europe, and many local initiatives in the United States. For something a little more sedate, check out the American Community Gardening Association, which can help you locate gardens that need manpower.

And then there are places like the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, whose Citizen Science and Environmental Education programs offer a trifecta of benefits: You can be active outdoors, do good, and exercise your brain, too!

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