If you’re like us, you’re practicing social distancing right now. If you’re like us, you’re avoiding crowds, working from home, and trying to fend off a visit to the doctor.

But do you know what might help you avoid those gatherings, a doctor’s visit, and preserve your mental health?

A good dose of the Great Outdoors. And there’s no better place to get that than in our beloved Park.Bridge on the James

One of the beautiful things about the James River Park System is that there are so many easy points of access. You can walk in, ride your bike, or drive to one of those points, start to enjoy, and while you may cross paths with others, you can still keep a responsible distance.

Today also happens to be the Vernal Equinox – the first day of Spring. It officially hits at 11:50 tonight, but with our bright sunshine and warm temperatures, it might as well be right now.

A year or so ago, Harvard Medical School published the results of a study that showed a walk in the woods may be just the thing to promote good health. Researchers looking at the brain activity of test subjects showed that 90 minutes in the outdoors promoted positive emotions. The calming sounds and sights of nature lowered blood pressure and levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that drives the body’s fight-or-flight response.Scooters

A similar study published by the Cleveland Clinic examined the benefits of sunlight. Too much sunlight, obviously, can lead to a host of problems. But a bit of sunlight each day helps to promote the production of vitamin D in our bodies. They found that (especially for older folks) vitamin D can help reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack, hip fractures, and even colorectal cancer! As we deal with the coronavirus and change of seasons, it may help you to know that some good sunlight also protects against insomnia and depression.

For younger people, a study at Yale showed that simple access to green spaces had great benefits for mental health. Being outside lifted moods, lowered anxiety, and boosted self-esteem. Their study showed that spending time outdoors lessened the effects of Attention Deficit Disorder and aggression in children.

Our Facebook Page is posting a ton of things with ideas for activities that you can joy both in the Park and at home.

Remember, not everyone has access to something as beautiful and beneficial as the James River Park. And in these uncertain times, the Park is working with a limited staff. So be respectful of others, and respectful of the Park. Keep things tidy, clean up after yourselves, and maybe gather up some stray litter!

While we try to get along with our lives and await the day things return to some sort of normal, take advantage of the James River Park. Get a good dose of Nature.

* Images courtesy Scott Dickens and Dave Parrish Photography