For this final installment of the Hiking for Health’s Sake series the focus of the hiking experience became relational health. As a community supported land conservancy in an area with limited public land access, we find this topic to be extremely important. But what exactly is relational health?
Relational health is focused on creating and maintaining meaningful relationships with other people, and with communities. Positive relationships provide benefits such as feelings of self worth, confidence, support systems, enhanced communication skills, and increased conflict management skills. So what does this have to do with hiking? As it turns out, a whole lot.
Hiking with friends, loved ones or members of a group or service club can help foster connection, create bonds and positive memories, and provide much needed quality time together. Challenging hikes present opportunities to overcome obstacles together, creating trust. Easy or moderate hikes allow for a shared experience and provide an opportunity to have conversations, explore and bond. Hiking in areas throughout your neighborhood or region creates a stronger bond with ones community, building a relationship to the place and people where you spend your life. Overall hiking can create a stronger relationship to the people around you, and greater enjoyment of your local community.
I have enough personal experience to support these claims that I could probably write a book about it. I have made friends out of numerous colleagues and classmates over the years by spending time hiking together. My husband and I have hiked in numerous places across the country, each trail leaving a mark on our relationship and helping us create memories together. I’ve also had deeply intimate experiences with places I have only visited briefly because I got out and hiked the land, experiencing the landscape up close and personally. Relational health strives to be empowering and encourages connection, and there is nothing like a hike to leave you feeling empowered and connected.
Although I already agreed with all the notes and research I was finding on the positive impact that outdoor experiences have on relational health, I didn’t want to cheat myself out of the final hike for this series. So I laced up my boots, fired up my fitness tracker, and this time strapped my daughter into the baby-hiker-backpack and hit the trail at Florence Maxwell Audubon Woods Preserve. I have been hiking with my daughter since she was born, in hopes to cultivate a love of nature in her from a young age. Now I realized for the first time that these hikes were also part of a bonding experience between her and I, shared experiences that would one day be memories of how she grew up. Above and beyond that, she is also being exposed to her community in a rich and meaningful way by seeing its hillsides and forests and rivers up close and personal. With relational health in mind, hiking takes on a new meaning that is hard to describe in one brief article.
The loop trail at Audubon Woods is not extremely long but it packs a lot of beauty into the loop. To start the hike we passed through the hardwoods heading toward the river. Once we reached the high bank overlooking the river, we enjoyed the beautiful cedars lining the river bank. As we wound through the woods we came across a beautiful flowing stream, and breathed in the cool, clean air. Surrounded by tall trees and low, rolling hills, Audubon Woods is the perfect place to connect with the land.
Upon finishing the loop I couldn’t help but check my fitness tracker. In 25 minutes I had logged 2,162 steps, burned 167 calories (probably higher if they had known I was carrying 20 plus pounds on my back), explored the river bank and 40 acres of beautiful woods and created a stronger bond with my daughter and our community.
Hiking provides innumerable benefits for the body, mind and soul. It connects people with their communities and with their loved ones and can help individuals improve their mental and physical health. Hiking can often be done for free and is a great way to explore your area and connect with nature. I believe that all kinds of exercise hold value, but none so much as a hike in the great outdoors.