Benefits

Consider Fresh Air and Relaxed Hikes to Combat Work Stress

By Andie Burjek

Jul. 2, 2018

My mind has been in the mountains recently.

Bonhij, a valley in Triglav National Park. Photo from August, 2014. Photo credit: Andie Burjek.
Bonhij, a valley in Triglav National Park. Photo from August, 2014. Photo credit: Andie Burjek.

Specifically, a mountain called Triglav in Slovenia, where many of my extended family members and I will be hiking in mid-July. I’ve slowly been accumulating everything I need, from hiking boots to a new wind-proof jacket. I’ve also started to get outside more, even for a long lakeshore walk or a casual neighborhood stroll. It’s not technically training, but, hey, it’s not like Illinois is exactly the place to be for mountain climbing.

That’s why I was intrigued when my co-worker got me in touch with a man named Tracy Hultgren who also works in the building. Hultgren is an adjunct professor in the A.T. Still University, College of Graduate Health Studies, Kinesiology Master’s Program. He publishes videos and blogs related to hiking and getting out in nature under the name “Trail Tracing.”

He and his wife, ever since they visited Moab, Utah, in June 2017, have checked out a trail every weekend (even in the dead of winter), documenting these hikes through the Trail Tracing blog and trying to get their message out about the benefits of getting fresh air. Since that trip to Moab, they’ve been on almost 50 trips.

View from the Lurie Garden in Chicago, an area in Millennium Park that calls itself an "urban oasis." Photo credit: Andie Burjek.
View from the Lurie Garden in Chicago, an area in Millennium Park that calls itself an “urban oasis.” Photo credit: Andie Burjek.

Hultgren and I took a lunchtime walk in my first ever walking interview a few weeks ago at the Lurie Garden in Chicago, and we discussed the benefits of going outside and getting fresh-air.

He started out by talking about stress and burnout, and how, particularly in the U.S., people glorify stress, hard work and long hours while not giving themselves the time to take care of themselves. But downtime for recovery is important.

One of the reasons he advocates walking is that it’s a simple form of exercise that most people can do. He’s noticed that many people have an “all-or-nothing” approach to working out, he said, a mentality of, “If I’m not going to run a marathon, I’m not going to run at all.” An attitude like this could be a hindrance is a person’s ability to take of themselves when really if they can take a little time out of their day to take a walk and get some fresh air, they’re making a positive impact on their health.

Spears Woods, Willow Springs, IL. Photo courtesy of Tracy Hultgren

Another interesting point is that in the media, much of the benefits of exercise tend to focus on aesthetics, like how to look good or get skinny. Not enough attention is made on how exercise can impact health, for example by lowering stress levels or potentially improving your longevity.

Another great benefit: awe. This was something more personal to Hultgren’s experiences, but I don’t think it’s crazy to think that many of us have felt a sense of awe at seeing something beautiful in nature. Hultgren’s experience was at the Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois. His wife and he were taking a hike in early March this year and something about how the light hit the trees made them stop in their tracks. Mine was being at an empty beach in November right before a huge storm. There was basically no one else on the beach, and the rain and the wind were crazy and almost scary. But that in itself was awe-inspiring.

The Garden of the Phoenix, Chicago. Photo credit: Photo credit: Tracy Hultgren
The Garden of the Phoenix, Chicago. Photo courtesy of Tracy Hultgren

One final note: Hultgren and his wife live in Chicago, a large city, and what imprinted me about this conversation was that even if you live someplace urban, it’s possible to experience so many different parks, trails and beaches — both within the city and not far away via car. Hultgren and his wife especially enjoy the Palos Hills area of Illinois, only 45 minutes away from Chicago with great terrain and beautiful sloughs created by ice.

His top five favorite hikes in the Chicago area?

  1. Ryerson Woods, Riverwoods, IL
  2. LaBagh Woods, Chicago
  3. The Garden of the Phoenix, Chicago
  4. Parnell Tower Trail, Plymouth, WI
  5. Moraine Hills State Park, McHenry, IL

For the record, I would add to this list:

A stormy, empty beach in Barcelona. It was a very awe-inspiring moment! Photo credit: Andie Burjek
A stormy, empty beach in Barcelona. It was a very awe-inspiring moment! Photo credit: Andie Burjek
  1. Matthiessen State Park & Starved Rock State Park, Oglesby, IL
  2. Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago
  3. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Lemont, IL
  4. Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL

What are your favorite places to recover from work, unwind and get outside?

Also Read:

Ryerson Woods, Riverwoods, IL. Photo credit: Tracy Hultgren.
Ryerson Woods, Riverwoods, IL. Photo courtesy of Tracy Hultgren.
Andie Burjek is an associate editor at Workforce.com.

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