Great ideas or “aha moments” can strike at any time. I have friends who swear their best thoughts come to them in the shower. Others keep a notepad on the nightstand for late-night brainstorms. For me, it’s usually on the trails. I’ve taken to using Siri to dictate random thoughts that occur to me as I’m running or cycling. I find that being in nature helps me reset and tune in to my own stream of consciousness. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, and research shows it can have a significantly positive impact on health.
A recent study shows that nearly half of all Americans never get outside for exercise. The ones who are getting outdoors are doing so less frequently. I was amazed by this research, finding myself obsessed with learning more.
I began asking questions. Are there obstacles for some to getting outside? I connected with organizations working to improve infrastructure so people can feel safer walking and cycling in their own communities. Do certain groups feel excluded? I recently volunteered time with non-profit organization Camber Outdoors, advocating for equity and inclusion in the outdoor industry. I published a white paper on the often-overlooked outdoor recreation movement in the South. Is there a lack of education about outdoor recreation? I led a Girl Scout group in completing an Outdoor Adventure badge. Do people feel limited by certain health conditions? I dug into to the data on health disparities and the impact of exercise on chronic conditions.
I was deep in the trails listening to the sound of my own breath and contemplating all of these recent connections and findings when the “aha” moment hit. The work I was doing to understand the trend away from outdoor exercise was the very thing needed to help reverse it. More people asking questions = more awareness to the issue and development of solutions. I also realized my efforts were renewing my own excitement for the outdoors, and reigniting my own passions. It became clear that this is my purpose. Whether through volunteer work, a paid role, or (ideally) both, I want to be part of finding solutions and breaking down barriers that prevent people from experiencing the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
My midlife epiphany wasn’t really an epiphany at all. It was a reminder of something I already knew. I am not happy if I’m not feeding my soul. Just like our bodies need a variety of healthy foods, our souls needs a variety of healthy habits to stay in top shape, and one of the healthiest habits is helping others.
And, that’s a lesson worth sharing.