(Photograph taken at a Soul Trak Outdoors event)
Do you remember being a kid? It seems like just yesterday I was running around outside, care free, just living and enjoying life. I remember the sense of being connected to the world around me. I wasn’t afraid to get dirty outside and refused to be inside on a nice day. I played tag, football, basketball, swam in local pools, rode bikes, and engaged in plenty more outdoors activities. I walked around the neighborhood connecting with friends, having races, only taking breaks to go inside for lunch. When thirsty, my friends and I drank water from the side of the house and went back to playing. We argued, we fought, and we made up the next day as if nothing happened. Now most people can’t even argue without holding a grudge against someone. What happened to those days? How have we as a society become so disconnected from being outdoors? Many of us have become so far removed from the outdoors that we have forgotten what it feels like to do simple things like watching the clouds and identifying their forms, to star gazing on a warm summer night.
To debunk a myth I’ll say this, black people do partake in outdoors activities. I hear too many times, “black people don’t do this” and “black people don’t do that.” Where did those ideas come from? How have we allowed ourselves to become so far removed that we hold ourselves back from experiencing new things, I’ll tell you how. A lot of black people live in the inner city or in areas where certain activities aren’t accessible. They are in areas where they aren’t exposed to nature, no more than walking outside to get in their cars to drive around a bustling city, or watching the scenery quickly pass them by from the windows of public transportation. How many times in school have you heard about black families going on camping, hiking, or skiing trips? I can’t recall one black family growing up that did anything outdoors more than cookouts, fishing, and going to the beach; yet we spent so much time outdoors as kids. Although these things have been reality in the past, we don’t have to allow for them to continue this way. We can change the narrative and get back into playing sports and partaking in other outdoors activities, while working to teach our ourselves, along with our children and youth, the value of connecting with the world around them.
I believe that a lot of black people don’t take the time to partake in outdoors activities because they lack the transportation, finances, information on local organizations, and/or simply have forgotten how to. I too had forgotten what it was like to enjoy being outdoors. I personally love being outdoors but I allowed for myself to get wrapped up in living the fast life (work, school, social media, and partying) and forgot how a simple walk outside can bring the comforting sense of piece and clarity to my life. Recently, I went on a hike and reconnected with being outdoors with a group of black millennials (a blog on the Soul Trak Outdoors organization is coming soon to a blog near you). I sat on a rock, closed my eyes, and listened to the water pass me by as the wind brushed past my ears. It was as if I was sitting next to God himself. This small action of just stopping to take in the moment put me at ease and helped me to re-center my mind, regain self-composure, and most importantly, just breath. It wasn’t until then that I was able to process my life and what peace and harmony truly mean for me. Connecting to nature gave me ability to reconnect with myself; my past present, and future.
Now let’s talk about the benefits the outdoors offers to improving mental and physical health. Spending time outdoors has been linked to mood elevation, reducing mental fatigue and stress, aiding with fighting depression and anxiety, producing endorphins that give you a “runners high” (feel-good phenomenon when your body releases endorphins during exercise), and improves the ability to focus. Being outside also has been linked to improving memory, reducing inflammation, decreasing fatigue, protecting vision by reducing the risk of nearsightedness (myopia), lowering blood pressure, and potentially has an affect on reducing the risk of cancer. The National Park System lists 418 national park sites in the US: https://www.nationalparks.org/connect/blog/how-many-national-parks-are-there
My advice to you is to get out and explore. There are tons of groups out there that are dedicated to outdoors activities. If you cannot find any in your area, find some indoor activities that are just as good, or just simply go for a walk. You can even start a group in your area with your friends, which can also serve as a good way to network with new people. Why not get out and enjoy the free spaces that are provided to you, especially the ones that we are paying for with our tax dollars. I did, and I haven’t regretted it yet. If you do not believe me about the health benefits to being outdoors, here are a few sites for further reading and research that will help to build and increase your knowledge on the topic. Remember, healthy living is happy living.