Green earth, lean you

The MetroParks guide to a healthier 2016

Kristen Wicker

Photo: Explore the region’s paved trail network by cross-country skiing, which burns 700-900 calories an hour.

An estimated 40 to 50 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions, most of them focused on improving our health. Regardless of whether you made a vow to get it right or think resolutions are a load of hogwash, you’ll find lots of ways Five Rivers MetroParks can help jump-kick your fitness in 2016.

Indeed, numerous studies have documented the health benefits of time spent in nature. The most recent, completed by Stanford researchers and published in June 2015 by the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science, says a 90-minute walk through nature can positively affect your brain and may reduce the risk of depression.

There’s plenty more proof. In 2014, researchers at the University of Michigan found nature walks are linked to enhanced positivity and lower levels of stress. According to a study published in Psychological Science, interacting with nature can have a restorative effect on your attention levels. Researchers at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School found women who spent six hours in the woods during the course of two days had an increase in virus- and tumor-fighting white blood cells, and the boost lasted at least seven days. Other studies have shown that time in nature can improve your short-term memory, reduce inflammation and improve mental focus and creativity. Compare that to the negative effects, such as a mosquito bite.

So all you have to do is walk around a park or other natural area and—boom—your health improves. But where to go and what to do? No worries: there’s a park for that.

Get in Shape

Punch your pudge in the gut by moving your get-fit routine outdoors. The MetroParks Ice Rink at RiverScape MetroPark in downtown Dayton is open daily through Feb. 29, and even moderate skating can burn nearly 400 calories an hour.

Your MetroParks also are home to more than 160 miles of trails for hiking, cycling, mountain biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The Dayton region also is home to the nation’s largest paved trail network, with more than 330 miles to explore, along with a portion of the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail and the Buckeye Trail, which encircles the state.

Hiking can sear through 400 to 600 calories an hour, and the more than 75 miles of hiking trails in Five Rivers MetroParks range from flat to furious. Some suggestions include the Taylorsville MetroPark orange loop, which is great for running, hiking and wildlife-watching. At Sugarcreek MetroPark, the 3.1-mile green trail is popular for those training for 5Ks. The green trail at Englewood MetroPark is also popular, as it includes a river, lake, three waterfalls (stunning when frozen), deep woods and good bird watching. Any of the more rugged trails in the wilderness of Germantown or Twin Creek MetroParks will kick your buns into high gear. Or, try the orange trail at Hills and Dales MetroPark and purple trail at Possum Creek MetroPark. They’re great for those new to boots on trails, as both are picturesque yet painless to hike.

Travel between Huffman and Taylorsville MetroParks for a taste of the North Country and Buckeye Trails. (Keep going and you could reach North Dakota or Vermont.) Much of this trip is on the region’s paved trail network, which also can be explored by cross-country skiing, which rips through an amazing 700 to 900 calories an hour, or cycling, which shreds 300 to 700 calories.

Eat Healthier (and Local) Food

Eating locally produced foods—including grub from your own garden—can blast your belly while also giving the environment a healthy boost.

The 2nd Street Market in downtown Dayton is open Thursday-Saturday year-round and is a great destination for foodstuffs from area farms and bakeries. It takes less energy to transport these goodies to your table, making local food less taxing on the environment and often healthier, too.

If you’d rather grow your own, Five Rivers MetroParks offers a number of gardening programs. At Possum Creek MetroPark, learn about indoor growing and make your own simple system in a five-gallon bucket at the Hydroponics Workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14. Learn about raising bees during Bees 101 from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 23.

New this year, Five Rivers MetroParks will offer a beginner gardening series that will teach you Earth-friendly planning, plant selection and maintenance practices for landscape and food gardening.

Attend the free Winter Garden Workshop and Seed Swap from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 27, at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark to learn more about garden planning, try micro green sprouting and score free seeds. Check out the third annual Community Supported Agriculture Fair from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, at the 2nd Street Market for answers to such questions as “What the heck is a CSA?” and “How do I prepare all this kohlrabi?”

If you don’t have much outdoor space of your own, you can rent a plot in the community gardens at Wegerzyn and Possum Creek MetroParks for as little as $20 a year.

Gardening, by the way, is a fat-blasting calorie consumer, burning anywhere from 200 to 600 calories an hour.

Visit metroparks.org to register for these programs or for a list of many others that will help you live large in 2016.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kristen Wicker at KristenWicker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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