Monday, May 22, 2017 Hiking for health: connecting people with nature and each other

An initiative in Santa Monica, California aims to bring people together in nature to boost their health

Santa Monica is well known for its beautiful beaches, pleasant year-round climate, mountain ranges and hundreds of miles of hiking trails and bike paths.

Tourists certainly take advantage of this natural glory: 7.9 million people visited the city in 2014. It may be surprising, however, to hear that many of the city’s 92,000 residents don’t, with negative consequences for their physical and mental health.

Remedy Hike, a new initiative being launched on World Environment Day (June 5) this year, is looking to turn this around and improve people’s health by connecting them with nature and each other.

“We hike for change, both literally and figuratively,” says Chad Hildebrand, the founder of the initiative.

The 37-year-old aims to educate his community on the importance of integrative health – an approach that includes body, mind, and spirit – regardless of social status.  As a pharmacist, Hildebrand noticed how a lack of physical activity and social isolation in America was leading to a growing number of medications being prescribed to patients.

According to research by IMS Health, total prescriptions dispensed in the US in 2015 reached 4.4 billion, up 1 per cent from the previous year. Antidepressant prescriptions, however, went up by 10 per cent. Research also shows that social isolation is bad for health. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones.

In Santa Monica, The Wellbeing Project found that 52 per cent of residents don’t engage in any form of daily physical activity despite having a massive natural playground on their doorstep. Only 55 per cent spend leisure time outside at least once a week. One third reported being stressed all or most of the time.

Remedy Hike hopes to improve these numbers by taking advantage of the natural riches all around. Santa Monica is home to stunning coastal mountain range, which offers panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Mountains, San Fernando Valley, and the Pacific Ocean.

Remedy Hike will pair individuals seeking health and wellness advice with integrative health educators from their local community on a series of friendly group hikes that take place a few times each week. And to ensure that everybody has a chance to participate, they are operating a scheme of paying the educators what you believe is fair.

Hilderbrand chose World Environment Day to launch the new initiative, as the 2017 theme of connecting people to nature resonates so well.

“I could not have dreamed up a more perfect fit,” says Hildebrand. “So, on World Environment Day, we plan to get the community of Santa Monica and its neighbors together to be one with nature. “We are going to take advantage of our beautiful city, help our fellow residents get on the right path to living healthy, and celebrate our environment from sunrise to sunset.”

Remedy Hike is hosting two World Environment Day events in the greater Los Angeles area.

The first is a sunrise yoga session in a sycamore grove in Temescal Canyon Gateway Park, followed by a 3-mile hike to take in views of downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The second is a meditative hike in Tuna Canyon that takes its visitors up to a circular stone labyrinth in time to watch the sunset.

“Sometimes change starts with an individual, but change can occur more efficiently when we come together,” says Hildebrand. “Whether we are working together as a small community to address our health or taking on a global initiative, together we can challenge each other to do more and by doing so create positive societal change.”

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