Hidden Health Benefits of Nature — For You and the Environment

A visit to the Forest Preserves of Cook County is good for your health and for the health of the environment. Learn more about what your family can do here.

We all know that getting outside into nature is good for our minds and our bodies. But did you know that you and your family can also contribute to the health of the environment as well?

Chicagoland families have access to a variety of “Wellness in the Woods” activities offered through the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

These programs encourage parents, grandparents, caregivers and kids of all ages to immerse themselves in the 70,000 acres of protected ecosystems contained within the Forest Preserves.

And, while they’re designed to promote the health benefits of nature for people, these programs can also inspire your family to care for nature — and maybe take part in some volunteer activities, too.

Helping nature — and our health

Imagine the mindfulness and mental health benefits of a peaceful guided nature walk in the evening at the  Little Red School House Nature Center in Willow Springs. According to Mondl, opportunities like this are essential for families to experience a connection with the healing powers of the outdoors.

A Forest Therapy Walk, Wellness Walk or even a Gratitude Nature Night Walk is a great way to get started engaging in nature — for the good of your health and the environment, too.

“These events allow the individual to embrace nature to its fullest to let all of your senses go and be part of nature,” says Tim Mondl, Regional Program Coordinator for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “The idea that being absorbed 100% in nature creates a healthier being is our greatest motivation.”

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Maggie O’Boyle is excited to be planting trees at the Busse Woods tree planting event. Photo credit: Forest Preserves of Cook County

It’s easy to see that getting out in nature is good for us, but it’s not always as easy to know how to help the environment. That’s where the experts at the Forest Preserves of Cook County can help.

“We engage youth and families to take part in, engage with and protect the outdoors,” Mondl says. “Just imagine the excitement in your child’s eyes when they realize that they can take an active part in helping the environment!”

What kind of activities can Chicagoland families take part in that will have a positive and lasting impact on us and the environment? Mondl has a few suggestions that you and your family can explore together to create your own wellness in the woods and for the woods!

Volunteer activities for many ages

When it comes to bringing the importance of connecting with nature home to our kids, Mondl believes that a sense of ownership and pride is essential in making it all click.

The kind of pride our kids feel when they master a new skill — like tying their shoes or making the varsity soccer team — also motivates them to keep reaching for more, he says, and that all carries over to how parents can help their kids build a sustained connection with nature that benefits everyone in a long-lasting and positive way.

Take an active part in helping the environment by learning about all the volunteer activities your family can participate in.

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Carlos Munoz adds mulch to trees at the Busse Woods tree planting event. Photo credit: Forest Preserves of Cook County.

A great place to start is by joining forces to clean up litter at the Forest Preserves. Learn about litter hot spots and plan your own family project or gather like-minded folks from your community to clean up as a group. It’s a simple, but effective way to boost the health of the environment.

And, you can continue the good work right in your own neighborhood. Even young children can participate in volunteer activities like Project Squirrel. Simply watch the activities of squirrels in your community, then log in and share what you observe.

Adults and families with older children can take part in activities that combine ecological restoration with an art project.

One way to accomplish this goal is by woodworking with an invasive species, like the European buckthorn. A favorite part of Mondl’s job is seeing joy in the faces of participants in this unique activity.

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Adalyn Tafko and Gina O’Boyle work on planting a tree at Busse Woods tree planting event. Photo credit: Forest Preserves of Cook County.

“We’ll get folks to come out and fell a tree and create their own walking sticks,” Mondl says. “The goal is to come back a year later and hike the region and see the benefits that area has received from clearing out the invasives with the bonus of getting physical activity in, too!”

To keep everyone safe, adults handle the tools for these types of events, Mondl explains.

“It’s a win-win for families and the environment,” Mondl says. “It’s also a great way to develop pride and feel a sense of ownership and accomplishment for the natural world in and around your region.”

Says Mondl: “It’s a really great opportunity for families to be together in — and with — nature.

Visit the Forest Preserves of Cook County and learn more about how your family can enjoy better physical, mental and environmental health. Click on fpdcc.com.

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