Healthy Hikes Magazine / Issue 2
A Daily Dose of Nature
Wandering in the forest feels good and science is backing it up. Study after study shows fresh air, green grass, trees – all things better known as nature is good for your mental and physical health! Nature lowers your risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and it improves a person’s mood and outlook on the day.1, 2
But how do you accomplish a daily intake of nature when you have so little time? Here are a few tips to try:
- Search out nature escapes near your home and office.
- Consider visiting roof top gardens, patches of grass and parks.
- Plan a nature walk when visiting friends or family.
- Small nature moments are valuable – take five minutes for a breath of fresh air and a Step Into Nature.
- Make it a regular family priority – consider a long family walk at least one day a week.
- Block off a time in your calendar and prioritize time in nature as a “must do”.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself if one outing does not go well or your plans fall apart. Be flexible. Try again or choose something different to do in nature.
- Look for local nature events at your local Ontario Conservation Area.
- Consider fun activities like walking, biking, snowshoeing, pole walking, camping, fishing, canoeing or kayaking.
- Don’t forget to spend time outdoors in winter – nature is available all year round!
Trails for everyone
Don’t let physical limitations keep you or your family and friends off the trails. Search out an accessible trail near you. The Regional Municipality of York maintains three accessible trails for those who use a wheelchair or other assistive devices for mobility in the York Regional Forest. These trails are also a great place for strollers and new parents to connect with nature and de-stress.
The York Regional Forest Accessible Trails have been widened, cleared of obstructions and graded to ensure ease-of-movement for all visitors. Each trail ranges between one to two kilometre loops that pass through a variety of landscapes. There is also accessible parking.
When planning your nature experience, remember to dress for the weather and time of year. Check your local air quality health index conditions.
On each nature adventure, remember to:
- Stay hydrated by drinking water from a reusable water bottle.
- Cover up with light coloured, loose fitting, closely woven clothing.
- Tuck pants into socks for added protection from ticks.
- Wear closed-toed footwear.
- Wear a large brimmed hat and UV protected sunglasses.
- Limit time in the sun when the UV index is three or higher, usually between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Use sunscreen with a SPF of 30 or higher including a SPF lip balm.
- If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, put your sunscreen on first.
- Use insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin when outdoors and always follow the product instructions.
- Remove attached ticks as quickly as possible to reduce the potential risk of Lyme disease.
Take the time to connect with nature daily for your mental and physical health, but also to increase your attention, creativity and your connectivity to your family and friends.3
– Carol Karner, R.N., B.Sc.N, Active Healthy Communities, Public Health, Community and Health Services Department, The Regional Municipality of York.
1 Pearson, David and Craig, Tony. The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments (2014). [cited: June 12, 2017]
2Mood Walks. [cited: June 12, 2017].
3 Suttie, J. How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative. 2016. [cited: June 19 2017].
What’s Underfoot? Who Cares, Enjoy that Trail Without Worry!
Do you work up a sweat on your toes or on your bike? Are your eyes and ears on high alert for the flutter of feathers, the scurry or slither of animal friends? Maybe you just take your time, breathe deeply and contemplate profoundly as you stroll along.
Whatever your trail enjoyment style, chances are you haven’t thought much about what’s underfoot. And so your sight can continue to wander up and out, we’d actually like to keep it that way!
Still, you might be interested in knowing that a lot more goes into trail building than initially meets the eye. Bet you’ve never really thought about the person that has plotted out the path of the journey you are on. They’ve had to consider how the trail can unlock the magic of a place: what features should be highlighted, are lookouts, benches and other amenities in the budget? Top of mind for trail builders is ensuring runners, birdwatchers or peace-seekers will get the most enjoyment from a particular place.
A lot of effort goes into achieving a balance of providing interesting access for humans, while protecting their safety and the ecology of a site. Trail grade, makeup of the trail material, adhering to accessibility and sustainable trail standards are all considerations you’ve probably never thought about. Mountain biking can present particular challenges, and thankfully riders themselves are often the best advocates for design considerations that address water flow and drainage. They even make it fun by using terms like “surf the hillside” (build on the contour), and “avoid the fall line” (the shortest route down a hill).
Once a trail is built, keeping you safe is always a top concern too. Removing stumps, rocks, in-the-way vegetation or other hazards is a required part of maintaining trails in tip-top shape. And, that thing that bothers us all while out in nature, litter, that’s an especially tricky part of trail management, one that requires all of our vigilance in creating a culture of respect in our Conservation Areas.
So this fall, we especially encourage you to get out and enjoy all variety of trails at our Conservation Areas. There is something for the mountain bikers, bird watchers, trail runners, and meditative walkers among us. And when you are hiking, we’re happy for you to enjoy your chosen activity, safely knowing someone else has taken care of the rest for you.
– Melissa Rosato, MES, Communications Specialist, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
Don’t Let the Outdoors Bug You
It’s important for our health to get outdoors and experience nature, however, there are certain parts of nature that we would rather not experience – specifically bug bites. The following outlines a few tips and tricks to help those venturing outdoors to avoid being bitten by common bugs and insects.
Unfortunately for us, there are many types of biting and stinging bugs and insects in Ontario, including mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, black flies, ticks, bees and wasps. Interesting to note is that there are 74 mosquito species in Canada, and at least 60 of them are known to bite. However, from these species, only female mosquitoes bite as they need blood in order to produce and lay their eggs.
Preparing for your trip
Before you leave for your outdoor adventure, there are a few things you can do to prepare for the bugs, which will surely make your adventure much more enjoyable.
Don’t wear perfume, cologne, or strongly scented deodorant or hair products. These can attract bugs to you, so opt for fragrance-free products.
When preparing for your outdoor activity, your choice in clothing can make a world of difference. Wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts reduces skin exposure, limiting the surface area that bugs can bite or sting you. It is also believed by some that wearing brightly coloured or patterned clothing will attract bugs (specifically bees and wasps). Avoid attracting bugs by dressing in loose clothes that are lighter in colour or earthy tones to better ‘blend in’ to the natural environment.
Always wear close-toed shoes to avoid stepping on anything (primarily bees and wasps) who like to hang out closer to the ground.
As unstylish as it is, tucking your pants into your socks is a great way of preventing ticks from jumping onto your legs and latching on while walking through tall grasses. You’re an adventurer; no one cares how you look!
Bug repellant (containing DEET)
The most proven and effective way to prevent bug bites is to cover any exposed skin with bug repellant products that contain DEET, which works to protect you from any bugs, and therefore bug bites. Remember to re-apply every couple of hours, to ensure you’re getting the most coverage from the bug repellant. It’s recommended that children under the age of 12 should only apply bug spray with 10 per cent DEET a maximum of three times a day. Health Canada advises that children under the age of three should not have bug spray containing DEET applied more than once a day.
Natural bug repellant
If you would prefer not to use chemical products that contain DEET, there are a variety of natural bug repellants, and homemade recipes that some say are also effective at repelling bugs. Natural bug repellants cover up the human scent that these biting bugs are attracted to, making you in a way ‘invisible’ to any bugs.
Here are some of the most common natural bug repellants that may help you avoid bug bites:
Citronella – covering yourself in citronella oil can be very effective at helping to deter bugs
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil – applying this on exposed skin has been proven to reduce the amount of bites you’ll receive (most effective for mosquitoes)
Apple Cider Vinegar – insects in general do not like the smell of apple cider vinegar, so by applying this on exposed skin, you should significantly reduce the amount of bugs biting you
Catnip – the oils found in catnip have been cited by some to be more effective than DEET
Garlic – some people swear that consuming garlic, or rubbing it on your skin will also help prevent being bitten, although some people are still on the fence about its effectiveness
Other Oils – additional oils that seem to reduce the amount of bug bites are cinnamon, castor, rosemary, cedar and peppermint. All are strong enough to mask the smell of humans, which keep the bugs at bay!
Generally, natural remedies don’t last as long as products containing DEET, but they can be applied more frequently without the same negative impacts.
Some bugs (mainly mosquitoes) are more active during dusk and dawn; try to avoid being outside during these times, as you’ll be more likely to encounter plenty of mosquitoes during these periods.
Consider the time of year; some bugs (e.g. blackflies) are more active from the spring to the beginning of summer. When going outdoors, take note of the time of year, and which bugs will be more active when deciding which method of bug repellant to use.
While various insects are a part of our natural ecosystem, with appropriate clothing, bug repellant and trip planning, you can enjoy the outdoors and the many health benefits it provides. Come visit the natural beauty of Lake Simcoe Region’s Conservation Areas, such as Scanlon Creek or the Beaver River Wetlands to enjoy the beautiful outdoors!
– Lauren Grzywniak, Land Management Technician, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
Young Hikers Project
This project was created to foster the appreciation of Ontario’s hiking and walking opportunities amongst young Ontarians and to inspire young people to take action in the protection, preservation and growth of Ontario’s hiking trails.
Its goal is to facilitate this appreciation by providing activities for youth leaders and curriculum focused lessons for educators, as well as, links to resources for parents, with one goal in mind – to get youth outside and on the beautiful trails of Ontario.
Activity Resource Kit
Our Activity Resource Kit is designed as a tool for youth leaders and teachers to introduce children and youths to hiking. The recurring themes of the activities, games and lessons are:
Health & Recreation: The recreational values of trails are often their foremost attraction. In addition to the enjoyment values of recreation, there is a significant health and fitness benefit involved.
Natural & Cultural Heritage: Trails and greenways have the power to connect us to our heritage by providing access to naturally significant areas as well as historic locations.
Environmental Education: Trails provide firsthand experiences that educate us about the importance of the natural environment and respect for nature by leading us into a natural classroom.
Responsible & Safe Hiking: Our goal is to prepare hikers to enjoy their time in the woods by following best practices such as proper preparation, navigation skills and low impact hiking.
Designed to align with the Ontario school curriculum, each lesson is prepared in a consistent, easy-to-use format that contains:
- Grade level
- Provincial curriculum link
- Specific lesson goals
- Lesson description
- Resources required
- Enrichment/extension activities
- Educator notes
Free sample activity sheets can be downloaded here.
Hike Ontario will come to you and tailor the workshop to your needs!
Whether you’re an educator, youth leader or simply a group of like-minded individuals who wish to join the movement to get our kids out into nature and on Ontario’s trails this workshop could be a key to success.
The cost of the workshop is included in the $50.00 purchase price of the YHP Activity Resource Kit. An ideal size for the workshop is 10-12 participants. The length of the workshop can vary depending on your needs, from approximately 3 hours to a full day. To schedule a workshop, please contact Hike Ontario at email@example.com.
– Tom Friesen, Past President, Hike Ontario and Certified Hike Leader trainer.