Q:  Do you have suggestions on hiking outdoors now that the weather is getting nicer?

A:  Spring is my favorite time of year. I always mark the beginning of the season with a pedicure so that I am ready to wear sandals and enjoy the warm weather. The blue skies improve my mood, and the ability to open the windows and feel the fresh air in my home feels so good. It is a special time of year, before it gets too hot, to enjoy the outdoors fully.

Senior Concerns recently hosted a Caregiver Recognition Event where several local speakers provided information on how to get a break from your day. One speaker was Jim Friedl, General Manager of the Conejo Recreation & Park District. He presented on how to use the local parks to take a physical and environmental break in your day.

His presentation was an amazing reminder of all the beautiful outdoor spaces our communities have to offer. We all know that exercise is important to our physical health, improving our cardiovascular fitness, strengthening our immune system, and helping to manage or prevent many chronic conditions.

But we often forget about the benefits to our emotional health. Being in nature can do wonders for our mood, reducing feelings of stress and increasing our sense of relaxation. It can also help us feel connected to the universe and to our own spirituality.

For me, the best stress reliever after a difficult day is to take a short hike and allow my mind to drift and I march up the hill. It almost immediately helps me breathe deeper and feel calmer.

The area we live in is filled with walking and hiking trails at all levels of ability. Some of the flatter walks in the Conejo Valley include Wildwood Mesa, Oak Grove behind the Chumash Museum, and Conejo Creek North behind the Thousand Oaks Library.

You can look to your local Parks and Recreation program to find a list of parks near you. The Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority has a listing of parks on their website. at The National Park Service website also lists things to do in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Start slow and always be prepared. Bring enough water, wear comfortable clothing, and consider going with a friend. If you hike alone always let someone know where you will be. Bring your cell phone with you and stay on the designated trail. Step carefully and wear good shoes to prevent tripping. Wear sunscreen and a hat. And most importantly, listen to your body and take breaks or turn back when needed.

Many local Parks and Recreation Programs offer nature walks with a group. That might be a great way to get started exploring some local trails in a safe group environment.  Check with your local senior center as well, for group programs that may be a good fit.

Enjoy this spring weather and get outside while you can. Once in nature take your time and let yourself really experience the surroundings. Take a deep breath and listen to the sounds of the birds chirping, the wind whistling and the leaves crunching. A mindful hike can do wonders for our spirit.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.


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