Naturalist: Immerse yourself in nature
By Jenny Rigby, environmental planner, teacher, writer and director of Acorn Group
Irvine’s open space is valued for its beauty. And increasingly, it is valued as therapy – an antidote to stress and anxiety.
It turns out that while exercise in general keeps weight and cardiovascular health in check, exercise outdoors in a natural setting reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, while increasing levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
Simply put, people feel calmer and happier following activity in nature. They also show improved cognitive functioning and enhanced creativity.
You can weave a variety of activities into nature-based excursions to deepen the experience. Here are a few prompts to get you started.
Find a sit spot
A sit spot is a place in nature that is close to home and revisited over time. A temporary sit spot along a trail also works.
Find a spot, sit still and engage all of your senses. Over the course of even just a few minutes, you will start to notice things, like subtle sounds, aromas, textures and shy wildlife.
Decode bird calls
Birds sing. They also chatter, whistle, bark and trill. In a calm state, birds sing a repeating melody. In an agitated state, they call, making a short, high-pitched note that warns of danger, defines territory, checks in or, in the case of a nestling, demands food. Actively listening to these natural sounds helps restore our attention and reduces stress.
Use your deer ears
Have you ever noticed how a deer moves its ears so it can hear better? Try listening with your own deer ears. Place the curved palm of your hands behind your ears and push each ear forward while maintaining a tight seal. Turn toward a sound and listen. How do your deer ears improve your ability to concentrate and hear things?
Dietitian: Eat right and feel better
By Bita Hirsa, dietitian and health educator at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Healthy Living
Eating healthy really comes down to one thing: making smart choices. Here’s how to get started.
1. Eat real food, not too much and mostly plants. Reduce the amount of processed foods, packaged foods and processed meat that you eat, and increase the amount of whole foods provided to us by nature.
2. Start small and gradually build a healthy eating pattern. Examples of small changes may be starting your day with a glass of water, adding some fruit to your breakfast, starting lunch with a salad or vegetable soup or replacing soda with water.
3. Don’t forget to exercise. Exercise is the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth. We recommend 30 to 60 minutes of moderate activity at least five days a week. Regular exercise helps burn calories, relieve stress and regulate blood sugar and blood pressure.
4. Sometimes a coach or workshop can help. Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Healthy Living offers many virtual workshops, including “Healthy Balance,” which focuses on how to lose weight through lifestyle modification. Visit kp.org/centerforhealthyliving or call 714-748-2714 to enroll.
Trainer: Minibands get muscles firing
By Kevin Taylor, fitness coach at Orangetheory Fitness in Irvine
One of the best workouts is also one of the safest and – bonus – least expensive. All it takes is a few mini-bands, which you can buy online or in a sporting goods store.
Exercises using resistance bands are a fantastic way to get muscles firing as they should, where perhaps they have been along for the ride, not quite pulling their weight.
Since they’re low impact, they are easy on the joints. And they are designed to strengthen your core, which will make all of your movements safer, whether you’re running, bending or just getting something out of your cupboard. Here are a few exercises to get you started.