The outdoors can boost body, mind, and spirit.
Story: James Klopovic and Nicole Klopovic
What’s old is new. The ancients philosophized about how to live holistically by continuously improving body, mind and spirit. There is so much to study, learn, and apply. My hope is to stimulate your interest because this is how I got ready for outdoors experiences.
Preparing for an experience in nature is really preparing for life.
What’s it all about? Working on your body means appropriate diet and exercise. Learn a few basic rules of eating and conditioning for overall health. Working on improving your mind is about doing things to stimulate your mind, even create new synapses. In the process, you become a more interesting person—well-read, well-traveled, and well-respected. By becoming interesting, you will attract interesting people with all the attendant blessings of companionship, camaraderie, and mutual accomplishment. Working on your spirit is realizing that we all can be happy. All this can be realized by venturing into nature.
Now let’s consider a bit about keeping our physical selves well. I begin with one quick and dramatic comment: the primary objective of exercise is not to get injured!
I began preparing physically for hiking more than a year in advance even though I was “in shape” but not “conditioned.” We can maintain our weight and be active but not realize the peak of physical performance, which we attain by doing exercises to help us with mobility, stability, balance, strength, and endurance, in that order. When considering exercise, especially if it has been years since any real, sustained, vigorous activity, the phrase to follow is: slow as she goes. The goal is to avoid injury that stops your exercise regimen. So, the trick is to learn enough about your physical structure and capabilities that you can continue your regimen by working around an injury. Never stop the habit of exercising. It is all about:
Simplicity. Exercising need not be complex. Determine to really exercise five times per week with a variety of low-impact conditioning routines like supervised high-intensity interval training, or HITT, swimming, spinning, and yoga, for example.
Suitability. Age appropriateness is very important. CrossFit is da bomb! But an older person or someone new to exercise does not have to do the CrossFit we see advertised. Take a step down to routines that focus on light weights and high repetitions usually with body weight only. I have been doing this for about 18 months now and have never had the same workout twice. There must be variety in good conditioning.
Sustainability. Exercise is for the long haul. Exercise hard and determine to do it for a lifetime.
Know that there is a difference between physical activity and exercise. One can’t be conditioned by gardening three times a week. You know if you are exercising if you cannot carry on a conversation during the exertion. Big difference. I am living the observation that the best years of your life will be after you are 60. But you must be vigorous and capable to be ready for the blessings of being a senior.
Now consider the second part of the holistic lifestyle: mind. Read voraciously. Always carry a book with you; one can read shelves of books in stolen moments, like waiting for an appointment. Find someone you admire and study how they conducted a life worth living and do some of the things they did. Time management is one thing; another is never being idle.
Relaxing and recreating is OK if time is also spent improving the self and those around us.
Nearly every day, it seems, accomplished people include mindfulness in their personal study and growth. Yes, the titans of industry meditate; so do many of our neighbors. This is merely a few minutes of quiet time where one practices being in the moment. This quiet time is scientifically proved to improve health and perspective. And I can make the case that this state of just being present can easily be achieved by practicing the art of the walk.
The art of walking is when the footfalls are in cadence with a set of hiking poles to involve the upper body in hiking, which together are matched with rhythmic breathing and relaxing. Yes, you can relax when you are walking. With practice I am now able to feel the pull of gravity on my face. Guess what is happening—these are the elements of meditation. It is tough to fret about yesterday and how it could have been—it’s done. And one can’t really worry about tomorrow because so much is unpredictable. Furthermore, you are simply away from worries in another marvelous world. Being in the moment in nature is what matters. Here’s proof:
I was explaining the art of the walk to a woman who belongs to a walking club. She remarked, “Yeah! Often I realize I have just walked five miles and I don’t know where it went.” She was in a meditative state. Who knows what her mind was free to think about and imagine during those miles where time stood still. That is meditation. Furthermore, she had begun so out of shape that, “I could only last 3½ minutes on a treadmill.” She was not deterred. She kept at it. Now she does 30- to 50-mile days with the club—and she just turned 70. There is something to this nature business. Lastly, let’s consider minding our spirit.
I turn to the ancients again. They defined happiness as freedom from big worries and persistent big pain. What great insight and truth. With that in mind, just about anyone can be or already is happy. Furthermore, we have nearly daily examples of people with truly big troubles and pain. They struggle mightily, yes, but return to living vital and accomplished lives while being examples to untold numbers of us. Remarkably so, there are people who are missing limbs and even one blind man and his dog who have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Happiness is real and attainable. So, as I say in “The Honest Backpacker”: find your way—take a hike.
About the writers → James Klopovic and Nicole Klopovic are a father and daughter who enjoy hiking in various places around the world.