Beauty and health benefits all in one shot!
Sure the Badlands are beautiful — and that’s why the Beautiful Badlands caps are popular — people like to brag about the Badlands. And the folks we write about who use the Badlands for their health regimen know that the Badlands help keep them mentally and physically healthy. It works for me, and it can work for you, too.
Osteoporosis — Did you know hiking in the Badlands is a weight-bearing activity that helps fight the negative effects of osteoporosis — especially in women?
Hiking the Badlands also fights heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and anxiety/depression.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease & Hypertension
Outdoor physical activity is one of the best health benefits to reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension. I notice that when I get my cholesterol checked. It’s healthier if I’ve been hiking and camping in the Badlands, but when I spend too much time in the office, my cholesterol numbers are not as good.
For me, it beats going to the Y or some place where an aerobics class has me jumping around to get my heart rate up. As I wrote a few months ago, I can do better aerobics on the Caprock Coulee Trail in the north unit.
Besides, hiking puts a lot less stress on my body than jumping jacks, or springs, or crunches or any other form of running or jumping.
Lean Muscle is an Attractive Health Benefit
When we’re out in the ranch country of western North Dakota, one of the things we notice is how most ranchers are lean and sinewy. There’s a reason for that, something that Theodore Roosevelt knew. It’s why he moved to the Badlands.
“A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage… For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”
Mental Health Benefits of Hiking
For me, the Badlands have kept me reasonably sane — especially when bearing the crunch of management jobs and solopreneur jobs; (“Reasonably” is a relative term). For me, it’s a much more healthy form of stress relief than happy hour at the local watering hole.
And it’s not just relieving stress. Hiking boosts my mood. It gets my body producing endorphins while burning off adrenaline so I have less anxiety and tension. That knot at the base of my neck disappears for days after a good day in the Badlands.
Oh, and those endorphins — those “feel good” chemicals a body produces — whenever I get back to the pickup after a few miles on game trails, I feel good. (Cue: James Brown “I Feel Good.”)
I thought it was just the break from the urban environment of a small town, a busy office or the visual stimulation. Then, I realized it’s my body makes its own happy drugs that God designed. That’s better than any anti-depressant the doctor prescribes.
Creating More Creativity
I’m always up for a mental health benefit. My mind gets a workout, too when hiking. The varied terrain, the people, the vegetation, all change with every bend in the trail, or with every new hill I climb. I keep seeing new things.
Sometimes, I sit on a hilltop and look. That’s all. Just look. The longer I look, the more I see. It’s like a peephole opens up to a full screen experience. It increases my senses to the surroundings and improves my sensory perception, noticing different shades of greens or browns, estimating distances between hills.
Alzheimer’s — A health benefit that escapes scientists is how to prevent Alzheimer’s. They tell me that one way to postpone dementia or Alzheimer’s is to keep exercising the brain with puzzles or brain teasers. That happens in the Badlands. The terrain is challenging — for my mind. How do I get across that washout, up that hill, or in the National Park, around that bison on the trail ahead of me. Outdoors, anything can happen. Preparing for and solving those unexpected moments keeps the brain flexible and active, I have so far discovered.
The back country hiking we try to do in the Badlands — (click here: off the beaten path like this beyond the easy trails)— improves my problem solving skills.
It means charting my own course. How do we zig zag up that hill? How do we set a course along the valley floor? Do we take it slow, or do we hurry up to beat sundown. (Don’t get yourself in that position of trying to beat dark.)
Daniel Levitin about his book Successful Aging, wrote:
Every minute you walk on an unpaved trail, whether in a park or in the wilderness, requires you to make hundreds of micro-adjustments to foot pressure, angle, and pace. These adjustments stimulate the neural circuitry of your brain in the precise way that it evolved to be used. The area that is most stimulated is your hippocampus, that seahorse-shaped structure that is critical to memory formation and retrieval. This is why so many studies show that memory is enhanced by physical activity. This way of looking at things is known as embodied cognition, the idea that physical properties of the human body, particularly the perceptual and motor systems, play an important role in cognition (thinking, problem-solving, action planning, and memory).
After Mary and I have spent the better part of a day hiking in the Badlands, we know we are going to get a good night’s sleep. None of that 4 am wakefulness when my mind overrules my body and keeps me awake.
We usually take protein bars or some other healthy snack to enjoy on a hill top — out of the wind, in the sun. And when we get back to civilization, our first destination is one of the eateries we love in the Badlands. That’s how we’ve gotten to know about these top 5 eateries. (click) After a bit of exercise in the Badlands, I crave real food, not junk food. A good hearty hamburger is perfect
Mary and I have noticed over the last 10 or 11 years how spending time exploring, hiking and camping in the Badlands has bonded us to each other. That’s a relational health benefit. Working together, we reach our goals of time, distance or landmarks. We keep each other’s condition and safety in mind, caring for each other.
We celebrate together at the end of a hike. Later, we share memories of that time when we <fill in the blank> in the Badlands
I got my kids out on the trails when they were preschoolers, decades ago. It’s an activity they grew into. And now they are doing the same with their preschoolers. It has given them a family activity to talk about for years, and helps them unplug from electronics or other modern distractions. In 2020, we saw a lot of families doing the same things (click), especially heading over to the Ice Caves.
We love to see others getting out and getting healthy on a weekend such as this. (click)
When you are ready to try a healthy afternoon in the Badlands, try the Long X trail, as easy or hard as you want.
If you’ve got some artist talent laying dormant from neglect, a day in the Badlands can revive those talents you’ve been given.
It’s how Robin Reynolds is inspired when she creates one-of-a-kind Badlands pottery from Badlands clay. Stop in to see her products — or take a class from this famous potter.
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