Ok, that may be overstating it a bit! Hobby maple syrup makers, like regular people everywhere, come in all fitness levels. But we are willing to wager that, as folks go, we’re a still a healthier- and happier-than-average lot, us backyard sugar makers! Could be that just leaving the house in the doldrums of winter is the thing that gives us a leg up. But it could also be that there’s something to this being-outside-as-medicine thing. It’s January. The interwebs are flush with health-related claims. Perfect time to look for an answer to that question! Guess what we found out? Spending time in the woods is really, really (really!) good for you.
Shocking? No. Granted! This may not come as a newsflash to you, once you take it in. As a friend put his hand up and told me recently as I was describing the topic of this post, you may be like “I don’t need any convincing.” It’s intuitive, to a certain extent. But it’s actually incredible just how many health benefits there are to being outside—and outside in the woods in particular—as documented by science! So let us regale you, here. And if you haven’t already resolved to make your own maple syrup this year, maybe this will put you over the edge. Or, at least, result in a holy matrimony of the tired-old “be more healthy” goal with something a little more FUN! And tasty.
I’m not sure why we persist in talking about our healths as if they are separate. Anyone who has ever had a stress-related, physical illness (Started a company, recently?) can tell you there’s no use viewing our mental health as different from our physical health. But there it is. And studies tend to be about one or the other, but not both. So, we’ll take them in turn, here.
The Mental Health Benefits of Being Outside
It’s not your imagination, you do reap mental health benefits just from being outside. And, according to a study conducted at the University of Michigan, this is true even if you are outdoors in the cold and not even enjoying yourself! (Take that, kids!) Not only does being outside improve your mood, it reduces the risk of developing depression and anxiety, helps fight those disorders if you’ve got ’em, lowers your stress levels, and helps boost brain functions like memory and focus. Spending time outside also results in higher academic performance, creativity and alertness. Apparently, the human brain just responds really well to the awesomeness of nature.
The Physical Health Benefits of Being Outside
The human body seems equally on board. Studies show that outdoor time lowers inflammation and relieves pain, makes you feel more alive by increasing your energy, gives the immune system a boost, promotes a natural sleep pattern, protects adult vision and prevents myopia in children, as well as reducing the risk of preterm birth, and early death! (Something for people of all ages!) Add a daily walk in the outdoors, and you could be preventing cancer. Add a weekly three-hour hike, and you reduce the risk of heart attack. Amazing, right? And we haven’t even discussed the legion benefits of Vitamin D!
There are Health Benefits in the Woods
But there are extraordinary health benefits that belong to forests alone. Have you heard of “forest bathing“? Well, you have now! It’s medical-speak for being in the woods, an activity that has documented health benefits including lowering your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, accelerating recovery from surgery and illness, increasing focus in kids with ADHD, and, of course, stress relief. In fact, forests are so powerfully good for you that the smell of a forest alone has positive health ramifications. Same goes for exposure to a wooded view!
The Case for Backyard Maple Syrup Making
Whether it is gathering your sugar wood supplies for a wood-fired maple syrup operation in the heat of summer, identifying your maple trees as the leaves turn in the fall, tapping those trees come winter, or boiling your heart out in spring, making open-air maple syrup in your own backyard is just about as woodsy an activity as you’d ever like to meet. And as someone who cared not a bit for the woods before taking the hobby up herself, I can tell you I’m better off for it.
So take a page from our books and turn your gaze outside and into your woods this year, where you, and your health, belong together! Be in that forest! Tap a tree! And make your own maple syrup. It’s healthy, before you even taste its sweetness!
The author, happy to be tapping a tree as that sugar snow comes down.