Another great article from Jennifer

Outdoor Activity Promotes Happiness and Is a Low Cost Option

With the climate and sunshine that we’re blessed with in Hawaii, it should never be a chore to participate in some outdoor activity. Whether you’re working on a project outside, taking part in open air sport or working on your fitness through another outdoor activity, there are lots of health benefits to be gained. While people usually think of strengthening their heart and lungs, toning their muscles and achieving a healthy bodyweight through exercise, when you take part in activity in the fresh air, you provide your body with a number of additional benefits. Here we take a look at what these are and making the most of what this area of Hawaii has to offer for physical activity.

Boosts mental health

You’ll have probably heard that regular exercise can help to lift your mood and there’s a lot of truth in that. What’s more, if you take part in outdoor activities the benefits to mental health are even greater. The positive impact that exercise has on your outlook is largely related to the release of natural chemicals in the brain during activity. Endorphins, dopamine and serotonin all trigger feelings of happiness, well-being and calm and particularly the former is known as the body’s feel good hormones. The presence of greenery in your surroundings has been shown to increase the effects on mood further, which may relate to the calming influence of the color green or that in natural surroundings the peaceful environment helps to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety; areas of water such as lakes and rivers, seem to produce further benefits still.

Top up vitamin D

When your skin is exposed to sunlight you generate vitamin D. This vitamin is mainly associated with maintaining the strength of our bones by helping the body to absorb calcium, but research increasingly shows that a range of other body systems also need it to stay in good health; a deficiency is now linked to a greater risk of developing diabetes, multiple sclerosis, certain cancers and depression. As there are few foods rich in vitamin D – oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals, milk and margarines are about the only ones – it’s vital that we expose our skin regularly to the sunshine. What better way to do it than when enjoying activities outside?

Overcoming the costs

When you think of outdoor activities, what springs to mind? For some people it might be surfing, kayaking or horse riding and they’ll say that they couldn’t possibly do these regularly, as they’re too expensive to participate in.  While costly kit and lessons can be a barrier to certain pursuits, there are ways to get around this, with some activities in the great outdoors having little or no cost attached to them. Take hiking for instance; all you need are some sturdy shoes or boots and a map, and then you can be off. Another economical option is cycling. Admittedly there is the initial outlay of purchasing a bike, but there’s no need to buy one that’s brand new; check the adverts in the local newspaper, in store or on online forums for second hand bikes for sale in the neighborhood. Alternatively you could consider taking part in a bike sharing scheme to keep down the costs. Once you’ve also got a helmet, you can take to the saddle and if you think about the money you will save on transport fares into the bargain, using a bike becomes more and more appealing. You may wish to consider taking out bicycle insurance, as not only will this protect you against theft and damage, but also covers you should you have an accident.

Suggested trails

If you’ve been inspired to put on your walking shoes, why not try the following trails?

  • Only a short drive north of Kailua-Kona is the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, which doesn’t just let locals and visitors alike explore the culture and history of Hawaii, but provides a number of trail options. You can pick up the Mamalahoa Trail, which is about 7 miles in length, but you can walk as much or as little of it that you choose; a mile and a half of the trail are within the park’s bounds, but you can continue either way to Keahole Point or to the airport. The path is easy to follow, but there’s little shade, so it’s best walked early or late in the day to avoid the sun when it’s at its peak. Another option is to take the shorter Ala Hele Ike Trail from the visitor center to the beach.
  • Less than 3 miles north of Kona airport is Kekaha Kai State Park.  There is free admission to the park and although the beach at Mahaiula is a good bet for swimming, Frisbee or a ball game, you can also hike out from here. If you are looking for a longer hike, the 4.5 mile coastal trail to Kua Bay is a good option; if you don’t fancy the return leg, arrange to be picked up from there. Half way along the trail take the short diversion to climb to the top of Pu’u Ku’ili, at 342 feet tall this cinder cone offers great views of the surrounding coastline.
  • If you head inland, the Honuaula Forest Reserve offers the opportunity to walk off the beaten track, so if a quiet walk is what you’re after, this is one of the places you can head to. The reserve’s O’oma trail at only a mile long is ideal for a short walk and takes you in a loop through tranquil fern forest; despite its position on the slopes of the Hualalai Volcano (now extinct), the walk is largely on the level. Just bear in mind that you’ll be walking through a cloud forest, so expect to be wet after your hike.

With many more trails besides, you are spoilt for choice in this region of Hawaii. Take the opportunity to explore all that it has to offer to reap the health benefits of outdoor activity.