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Does the Outdoors Positively Influence Our Health? One Cancer Patient Cites Its Benefits

"Whenever my health or spirit takes a dive I flee to a national park, or camp alongside a creek, or hike in a canyon. Our national parks and forests have been called 'sanctuaries for spirit.' Indeed, they are healing for me." 
                                                                  —Edie Littlefield Sundby

Is experiencing a great landscape the best medicine? Based on the reflections of a cancer patient who has outlived a 3-months-to-live diagnosis (for inoperable liver cancer) by more than 4 years, fresh air and good scenery seem to have played at least a partial role in her encouraging story.

In this New York Times health and wellness blog post, Edie Littlefield Sundby, a chronic cancer patient, describes the challenges she has faced, the family support she has received, the empathy shared with her by her physician, and the comfort she has drawn from time spent in nature. After each monthly infusion of chemotherapy, for example, she says that she takes a 4-mile hike. The post itself, she notes, was composed in a wilderness campsite along an Alaskan river.

North Cascade colorsI get it. I've felt the vibe experienced by this insightful woman. It brings to mind one of John Muir's most frequently cited writings, a quotation well-known to outdoor types:

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

It's a quote so often seen on calendars and gift-store memorabilia that the depth and substance of Muir's point can seem a little diminished. But its wisdom glows fresh when considered in the context of this woman's story.

Personally, I've lost count of the times I've had a great view or awesome sunset stop me in my tracks and leave my mind spinning with nature's spirit-lifting buzz of wonder and amazement.

Take the photo accompanying this post (below) as an example. It's a shot I took just last month of Glacier Peak floating above a sea of clouds while a nearly full moon hovers high above shortly after sunrise in Washington state's North Cascades. Honestly, how can you have a bad day after seeing something like that? Nature, how we do appreciate thee.

I find few things I do in life are as life-affirming as being outdoors in the company of great scenery. How about you? How has time spent in nature benefitted you? How much credit do you give it for influencing your physical and emotional well-being?

Posted on at 11:25 AM

Tagged: health, national parks and wellness

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keystone28

I firmly believe this is the case, without a doubt! I know that I feel physically better, and happier the moment I step out of the car and into the woods, so why wouldn't the same thing be true for cancer patients or other people who are suffering from various ailments?

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Mountain G'Ma

Loved this post! Have been living in the mountains for many years - diagnosed earlier this year with cancer, just completed my chemo and love that I can get into my special environment so easily, how lucky I am. The blue sky, the fresh air, the far vistas and now the smell of aspens as they change to their autumn colors make me truly grateful and happy that nature is unconditionally there for me. The minute I place my feet onto a soft trail my thoughts are filled with her many faces and many seasons...it gives me reason to fight hard to win this challenge as I know she is waiting just around the corner to greet me and offer another new vista.

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Edie's Mission Walk

Terry, I just saw your blog post. Funny coincidence - see this article: http://www.sonomanews.com/News-2013/793-miles-of-gratitude/

I just completed a walk of 793.4 miles to all the 21 old California Spanish Missions, with hardly a blister ... thanks to the extreme comfort of my 13 year old REI (made by Merrill for REI) hiking boots.

Edie Littlefield Sundby

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