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September 20, 2023

Getting Outdoors to Touch Grass (or Maybe Even Plant a Tree)

by Team Rowling

Getting into nature is beneficial in numerous ways—and, typically, is easier than you think! Even for those of us who live in cities. In our ever-increasingly digital world, it’s more important than ever to take a break and spend time in the great outdoors. And September’s a fabulous time for getting outdoors to “touch grass,” as the popular saying these days goes. Need a little bigger push? Here are just a few reasons to get outside, and places in the San Diego area where you can enjoy the great outdoors.

Getting Outdoors to Touch Grass

Good For Your Body

The most obvious benefit of getting outside is exercise. Scripps Health cites a number of positives that come from physical activity, such as the possibility of burning calories, increasing body strength, elevating lung strength, improving balance, reducing risk of heart disease, strengthening bones and slowing bone loss, dropping the risk of stroke, boosting energy level, limiting risk of high blood pressure, and more.

Sure, these all can be achieved inside gyms or on treadmills at home. But, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, studies have shown that outdoor environments, even in urban areas like San Diego, are better at motivating people to get active. According to the USDA Forest Service, outdoor activity has been shown to lower a person’s risk of cancer, better their sleep quality, and overall increase a person’s life expectancy.

In order to reap the benefits of the great outdoors, you don’t have to be some sort of expert climber or mountain biker or extreme hiker. Time and time and time again it has been shown that even light levels of activity offer physical health benefits.

And then there are the mental health benefits that go along with spending time in the great outdoors.

Good For Your Mind

If you’ve ever felt the almost euphoric calm that comes with seeing natural beauty—an oceanside cliff, a majestic mountain, a sweeping desert landscape, or even a patch of brightly colored flowers on an urban hiking trail—you know from experience that the outdoors can just make you feel better.

Well, that isn’t just you. And it’s not an illusion either. According to the American Psychological Association, studies have shown—and are continuing to show—the many significant ways being in nature can help a person’s mental well-being.

This goes for green spaces like city parks or rural forests, as well as “blue” spaces like anywhere with a view of a body of water. They can reduce stress. They can put you in a better mood. Your attention might improve. Some studies even note an increase in empathy and cooperation.

Feeling connected with nature has also been shown by studies to be “a significant predictor of happiness,” and can help fight against loneliness and isolation. It is a truly connective activity.

Speaking of connective activities

Good For Communities and Sustainability

Green spaces in urban areas not only provide individuals quick access to nature, but community involvement for creating and upkeep of these spaces is also good for local communities.

Cleaning and greening have been shown to reduce overall neighborhood crime by 13% and reduce nearby residents’ feelings of depression by 41%.

Per the Forest Service’s study, cleaning and greening have been shown to reduce crime and feelings of depression, and improve relations between neighbors.

A study cited by the APA also showed that nature makes people kinder to each other—and to our planet itself. Meaning that people who spend time in nature might be more likely to act in sustainable ways, perhaps even when they are not immediately experiencing nature.

Green spaces in populated areas can help an area’s sustainability by assisting in reducing things like pollution and heat. Supporting urban green spaces, then, can be good not only for you, but for others as well.

Where To Go For Outdoor Activity

If you’re in the San Diego area, you’re in luck—this region is filled with community green spaces and nearby places to enjoy the great outdoors. Of course, with its many beaches, you can enjoy some “blue” space along the coast, and even catch a wave or two to get that outdoor activity in.

And you can’t beat San Diego’s parks. Balboa Park is not only filled with ways to enjoy nature such as the Botanical Building and Lily Pond and nearby Nature Exploration Area but you can Find A Park practically a stone’s throw from wherever you might be in the city.

If you’re more ambitious, there are tons of places to get a walk, or sometimes even a strenuous hike, in.  Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy trails:

    • Tijuana Estuary: Dubbed one of the top beginner hikes by Scripps Health, this trail in Imperial Beach is “as simple and flat as they come,” and as a wetlands area is considered a great spot for bird watching. Click here for a trail map via AllTrails.
    • Sunset Cliffs: Flat and easy, Condé Nast Traveler calls this San Diego trail a “postcard-come-to-life” for its ocean views and cliffs that live up to its name. Trail map.
    • Annie’s Canyon: Short and considered easy, this trail near Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas has been called one of San Diego’s “most unique hikes,” featuring a very popular slot canyon. Trail map.
    • Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail: Another trail considered easy, this is a 6.8-mile loop inside the inland Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve, which features Native American history dating back 7,000 years. Condé Nast Traveler likes it for its “dense foliage and tranquil wildlife.” But be sure and call ahead; there might be closures still due to the recent storm. Trail map.
    • Cowles Mountain Trail: Widely considered one of the most popular trails—if not the most popular trail—in San Diego County, this might not offer the peace you’re looking for, but it provides a moderate challenge and some iconic views. Trail map.
    • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve: Home to multiple trails, this famous area of La Jolla offers more beautiful ocean views; the Broken Hill Trail Loop, considered a moderate hike, has cliff-top views considered “breathtaking.” Trail maps.
    • Balboa Park: San Diego’s giant inside-the-city park is more than museums and the zoo—it’s got 65 miles of trails. For hiking, Condé Nast Traveler recommends Balboa Park Trail #1: “[It’s] paved and short, at just 1.5 miles, but it also avoids most of the more heavily touristed parts of the park.” Trail map.
    • Cuyamaca Peak & El Cajon: For the adventurers among us, these are rated as more difficult than the previously listed ones—El Cajon, in fact, is 11 miles long! But the views, of course, are a big payoff, if you can make the journey. Cuyamaca map. El Cajon map.

Get Out There and Touch Grass!

Even the most avid nature fan can sometimes get stuck in a nature-free rut. Luckily, there are ways to combat this—and many of them are in (or close to) our own backyard.

So get out there, touch grass, and enjoy the great outdoors! Hit a trail or catch a wave, go for a walk or a swing at a park, plant a tree or join in a community cleanup. However you experience nature—your body, your mind, your neighbors, and your planet will be glad you did.

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