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Why National Park Visits Are Good for Your Health

Updated: 04.01.2017

A National Park visit offers the chance to relax with nature. This photo: Grand Teton National Park.

Doesn’t this Grand Teton National Park scene look relaxing?

If you browse through the articles at My Itchy Travel Feet, then you know that Alan and I are big fans of National Park travel. We appreciate that wild and scenic destinations in the U.S. are being preserved for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

But National Parks play a more important and personal role in our life. A visit is good for our health—and yours. Did you know that a National Park visit raises N.E.L.? Say what? That’s Nature Engagement Levels according to Humana’s #StartWithHealthy campaign.

Why is engaging with nature so important? According to an article at National Geographic, “being surrounded by nature has been proven to improve cognitive function, aid sleep, and increase attention span.”

A National Park visit is a great stress reliever.

Just looking at this Avalanche Trail photo reduces my stress. How about you?

Here’s a first-hand example: When I’m hiking through the thick stand of ancient cedar trees on Glacier National Park’s Avalanche trail, it’s as if nature wraps her arms around me in a comforting hug. Shafts of sunlight filter through to the forest floor illuminating the thick carpet of vegetation. Even the air smells healthy.

On more than one hiking trip, I’ve been tempted to curl up on a bed of ferns for a restorative nap. I bet my N.E.L.s would go through the roof.

Did you know that, on average, only 7% of Americans spend enough time outdoors? Does that number include you? Find out by taking the N.E.L. quiz at National Geographic—sponsored by Humana—to discover just how much more time in the great outdoors your body needs.

When I took the quiz, I learned that my level is “Balanced,” so there’s room for improvement. Hmm, I’m thinking a fall National Park road trip to catch the end of the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration could up my N.E.L.s. And fall is my favorite time for a National Park visit. It’s less crowded and wildlife sightings are more numerous as animals prepare for winter.

On a National Park visit, scenes like this one the healthy benefits of relaxation. This photo: Grand Teton National Park.

Looking at waterfall scenes is a sure way to raise your N.E.L. levels.

But what if you don’t have the time to visit a National Park? You still need outdoor experiences to raise those N.E.L.s. So get out and hike on nearby trails. If you live in the city, take walks in a park. Or stroll the tree-lined streets of your suburban neighborhood.

And here’s a benefit from nature that you might not know: nature is beneficial even if you are indoors. Lucky me, I have a beautiful Montana view outside my office window. But you can also raise those N.E.L.s by adding plants to your décor. Hang a favorite scenic photo on the wall. Or use a nature photograph as a screensaver on the computer that you stare at for far too long. Bonus points if the photos are from your trip to a National Park!

And, if this article has encouraged you to plan a trip to a National Park, stay tuned. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to share my favorite outdoor experiences in our nation’s parks, including how to avoid the crowds. That’ll raise your N.E.L.s a level or two.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Humana. The opinions and text are all mine.

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