May is Mental Health Awareness Month—the perfect time to celebrate the power of nature to boost mood and mental acuity. It’s no secret that nature—and forests in particular—can heal us. Physicians and mental health professionals are starting to recognize this. Many have begun to prescribe nature walks to their patients.
Elisabeth Henn-Carlsen is an Indianapolis counselor with over 25 years of experience. She generally encourages clients to get outdoors every day. “I don’t believe therapy is a panacea,” she says. “Sometimes what people need is to walk in the forest more.”
Long doses of outdoor time have been shown to boost mental health, according to Certified Forest Therapy Guide Christy Thomson. But a long weekend getaway isn’t necessary. In just a few mindful hours, people can gain therapeutic benefits.
Forest bathing, as it’s known in Japan, “gets you out of your head in a quick way,” Thomson says.
Last year Tony Armstrong found this out firsthand in Meltzer Woods. He lives by this beloved nature preserve, and is son-in-law of the late Philip Meltzer. The project started with a simple goal—follow his doctor’s advice to get regular exercise. But it turned into something much more.
In August 2019, the 65-year-old started walking the trail of Meltzer Woods daily. His commitment earned unexpected dividends.
“In the beginning I walked mainly for the exercise,” he says, “but what’s happened over time is it’s become meditational. I actually walk more for meditation than exercise now.”
He goes out early in the morning, sometimes at the crack of dawn when he can see the sun come up through the trees. He’s seen pileated woodpeckers, a luna moth, deer, groundhogs, raccoons, and once, a wood duck with her ducklings. He’s encountered people of all ages exploring the woods, some from three counties away.
He walked through snow and rain, no matter what. Every day for a year, and then some.
“In the woods you can get a lot of good ideas,” he says. “I run a farm and other things, and I need time to think and plan. And we all have some kind of problem now and then, and we all need to think things through and make good decisions.”
He loves the woods for its pure oxygen, lack of distractions, and the huge old trees. “Walking and meditating in the woods seems to bring me peace,” he says. “I don’t really see stopping.”
There’s still plenty of time to start the Trek our Trails Challenge—and what better way to boost your wellbeing this month? Between now and Nov. 26, trek five of our most popular preserves to take part. Find all the details here.