Was your New Year’s resolution to get more exercise? Or maybe it was to improve your health by losing weight or lowering your blood pressure? Or perhaps, like so many of us right now, your goal is simply to stay healthy. Then, I’ve got good news: heading outside for some time in nature can accomplish all of that – and more.

But maybe these weren’t your resolutions, after all. Did you resolve to start a new hobby? Go on an adventure? Spend more time offline? Learn something new? Getting outside in nature can help you out there, too.

It could be peace of mind you are seeking in the new year. Or, clarity? A renewed connection to self or sense of purpose? If, like so many of us, you have watched Disney’s new flick, “Soul,” you might be inspired to enjoy more of life’s precious moments in the coming year. And do you know what? Nature will have you grounded in the present moment, finding joy and thinking clearer in no time.

No matter what your intentions are for well-being in the new year, there is a good chance getting outside and spending time in nature will move you towards your goal.

A new study from researchers at Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources suggests humans have a psychological need for connection to nature, and spending time in wild places, in fact, reduces our risk of disease. Plus, numerous other studies have shown time spent in nature can improve short-term memory, reduce stress, increase levels of Vitamin D, improve sleep, strengthen the immune system, increase happiness and reduce inflammation. In fact, it’s been shown that just being around trees reduces your blood pressure and heart rate, boosts immunity and clears your mind. All of these benefits are sure to help you keep your new year’s resolution.

Of course, heading outdoors can be as simple as putting on some shoes and a coat and taking a walk (and you can check out our recent story on traction for slippery conditions in the Dec. 26, 2020, edition of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald). Snowshoeing, hiking and cross-country skiing are all great options, too.

Or, if you’re looking for motivation or a new experience, try one of the ideas below. Here are five ways to connect with nature in the new year, all while keeping your resolution:

Join a groupWith so much happening online these days, it’s easy to turn to the internet for everything, including the motivation to get outside. Magic Miles is a Facebook group that invites members to share posts about moving their bodies, whether for one mile or 20. There are members who walk, hike, run, snowshoe, ski and bike, and it’s a very welcoming and supportive group. It can be just the ticket for someone who is looking for motivation, a new friend, new challenges or accountability.

The group, which anyone can join, was created by Plainfield, Vermont, resident April Rogers Farnham, a long-distance runner, fitness instructor and hair stylist. She was profiled in the June 1, 2020, edition of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald, where she talked about how she was handling the pandemic and state shutdown. The biggest challenge for her, she explained, was the lack of motivation.

“My friends, my running partners, my co-workers, my clients, the families I volunteer for … I miss them all,” she said. “I’m used to seeing dozens of people on a daily basis, starting at 5 a.m. These people inspired me and made me laugh on a daily basis. Having it all end so suddenly was definitely hard.”

Thankfully, she turned that difficulty into this new group that helps us all head outside, get moving and stay connected.

Take the weekly challengeContinuing with the theme of heading online (and then outside), the Catamount Trail Association has launched a new weekly series that gets you outside and puts you in the running for cool prizes each week. The Weekly Winter Challenge Series asks participants to head outdoors to complete the challenge, document it on social media with the hashtag #CatamountWeeklyWinterChallenge, and submit a quick and easy form. There are new challenges and prizes every week (see catamounttrail.org for a list and instructions).

Just last week, participants were challenged to capture a sunrise in the outdoors. This week, the challenge is to visit a summit or viewpoint before Sunday. Other upcoming challenges include getting outside under the full moon, visiting a new place, or exploring frozen water. There is even a challenge to climb 5,000 feet of elevation, any way you choose. If the experiences themselves aren’t enough to get you going, prizes like a magazine subscription or $250 gift card to Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington might help you get out the door.

“It’s a stand-in for our regular events,” says Greg Maino, who directs communications and events for CTA, an organization that normally hosts lots of winter skills events. “And we’re hoping it will inspire people to get outside and explore their backyards.”

Cook with wild foodsWhat better way is there to get outside and connect with nature than to eat it? I’m kidding … sort of. The benefits of nature and outdoor exercise aren’t limited to hiking, snowshoeing and skiing; activities like foraging, fishing and hunting are great ways to get fresh air, peace of mind, and improved mental and physical health. And then there is the added bonus of something delicious and nutritious to eat once you’re back at home.

Vermont Wild Kitchen is an online cooking series hosted by Rooted in Vermont and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and it features hunters, foragers, chefs, bakers and others, all of whom join in a live video to cook up everything from wild turkey, fresh-caught fish tacos, wild nettles, berries and more. Previously recorded videos are on the Rooted in Vermont Facebook page, and the series will continue on the third Thursday of each month throughout the upcoming year. The next video will be on Thursday, Jan. 21, and will feature ice fishing and recipes for wild perch.

If you want to catch your own fish to cook with this winter, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is hosting educational patrols throughout the winter by joining anglers on the ice around the state. Find a full list of dates and locations on their website, where you can also find information on licenses, rules and how-to.

Get fatNo, I’m not talking about sitting around and eating doughnuts – I’m talking about your tires! If you haven’t tried fat biking yet – which is basically just mountain biking in winter – make this the year you head out on two wheels.

Pine Hill Park in Rutland and Millstone Trails in Websterville both offer excellent groomed trails for winter riding, as does Kingdom Trails in East Burke, but it is very important to check current trail conditions and get any updates before heading out. Pine Hill Partnership and Millstone Trails Association volunteers put in countless hours to maintain trails and provide trail updates, so check with those groups for the latest details or to volunteer. KT requires a pass; check their website for updates and pricing.

Bike rentals can be found at many ski and bike shops around the state, and also at some cross-country ski areas, like Rikert Nordic Center, and ski resorts like Jay Peak. Call before heading out for pricing and availability. Lastly, for tips on getting started, see our story in the Jan. 24, 2019, edition of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald, called “Fat bikers: wide tires for a winter ride.”

If you’re worried about whether you’ll have any fun fat biking, you can take the word of Doon Hinderyckx at Green Mountain Bikes in Rochester: “It’s awesome.”

With these ideas and a state full of opportunities for recreating outdoors, you’ll have no trouble keeping your New Year’s resolution.

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