Walking to Wellness
No one needs to be told of the powerful therapeutic effect of a long walk in nature. But for a reminder, you might want to join a group of hikers organized by Riverside’s Dave Hazerjian, a dual recovery specialist in Riverside’s Adult Community Clinical Services program in Milford. Dave takes staff members and people we support in the ACCS program on nature walks around and beyond the Blackstone Valley, a region with abundant reservation land and trail systems. The group has hiked at Lookout Rock in Northbridge, the Upton State Forest, the Blackstone Gorge, Hopedale Pond, and Mt. Wachusett. (In photo, ACCS staff members Dave, left, and Michael, right, accompany a group up Peppercorn Hill in Upton.)
An important piece of the work within ACCS is a wellness model that recognizes eight dimensions that can be tended and nurtured as a way to enhance an overall sense of well-being. Nature walks provide ample opportunity to focus on many of the dimensions…one of which happens to be environmental – spending time in pleasant, stimulating places, and another is occupational – finding satisfaction and enrichment in activities you’re passionate about.
At a basic level, walking or hiking for more than an hour at a time is just what many of us could use to improve physical wellness. And time spent in nature has been shown to decrease cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body. Couple this with the endorphins released by cardiovascular exercise on uphill sections of a trail, and you have a recipe for enhanced emotional well-being.
Spending time in the company of a group gives social wellness a sure boost. Conversations naturally come up along with the rhythmic pacing of a walk, and according to the group’s regular hikers, they’ve come to look forward to the camaraderie they find along the way. Nature presents different vistas depending on location, and the group shares and appreciates what each unique setting offers. At times, it’s the simple peace found in the shelter of the forest. At other times it may be the sweeping vistas or the grandeur of geological features crafted over millennia.
Whether a discussion on the natural beauty of New England that surrounds us, or a conversation that springs up on another interesting subject, there’s ample opportunity for an exchange of ideas among hikers to stimulate intellectual wellness. Some also find that time spent in nature strengthens their sense of purpose or existence in the world, thereby enhancing their sense of spiritual wellness.
And last, according to Dave and the group, “There’s the fact that almost every nature reservation we travel to is free of charge for entry – so we’re also mindfully tending to our financial wellness!” He adds, “That last part is half in jest, but we all find that the communal sense of well-being that we gain from our hikes is proportionately so much greater than the effort it costs!”
Our Adult Community Clinical Services (ACCS) program provides individuals living with a mental illness with an array of service options to help them develop skills and resources that promote resiliency and recovery. We work together with people to identify personal goals, obtain independent housing, receive addiction treatment, prepare for employment and education, and find a place in their community.