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TAKE A HIKE


The entire body of cutting edge literature on nutrition can be summed up rather patly as follows: Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Five words, in case you're counting. Let nature's bounty, plants, crowd out the other junk (animal products, refined grains, processed foods) until you achieve 100% saturation with fruits, vegetables, a moderate amount of beans and a modest quantity of seeds.

Done. Now it's time to move on to other areas of life lest we confine ourselves to eating like mere animals and deserve the label recently bandied about. Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating. Who needs it? Just eat plants until you are satisfied, and eat them again a few hours later. Repeat a couple/few times a day and do it indefinitely. Remember the kiss rule. Keep it simple, sweetheart.

Now onto another area that could use a little attention. The online obsession. This month's issue of Outside magazine  has a great article written by political blogger David Roberts entitled "Reboot or Die Trying," which details his efforts to manage his web obsession and the year he spent unplugged. During this time he led a more unstructured life, went on long walks, practiced yoga, played catch with his kids. Of course he was an extreme. Blogging for a high-traffic website requires one to be always available via text/email, ever abreast of news developments. It's not like this blog, whose only reader is you!

Roberts covers climate change, which as you know is a hot topic. He found himself spending over 12 hours a day online, often putting the kids to sleep, kissing his wife good night, and logging on from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. to catch up and keep up. The result was a constant fidget, restlessness, a junk food habit and a gut, among other nuisances that seem to be the inevitable result of staring at one or another type of screen for most of each day.

But although Roberts was an extreme instance of web-obsession, the addiction to our devices is spreading like wildfire. There's been a 50 percent increase in mobile screen time between 2012 and 2013. That means if you were spending 2 hours a day talking and texting and surfing, you're now spending 3 hours. Most Americans (75 percent) own a smartphone, over half check their phones at least once an hour, including while on the toilet and first thing in the a.m. Smartphone users ages 18 to 24 send an average of 67 text messages per day. Sheesh! That gives me a pain in the neck just thinking about it. Mind your posture!

What is all this time online doing for us, other than causing our fingers to cramp up and our eyes to dry out and go bloodshot? Is it exercising our brain or just exhausting us? Some might say the former, but it turns out that the later is the case.

Roberts quotes psychology professor Larry Rosen, who discusses the difference in brain activity while you're sitting at your computer versus talking a walk in nature. Research indicates that technology is highly overloading our brains, while nature walks are calming. This is science reinforcing common science.

Rambling through nature is really a wonder-drug, offering many of the same benefits as meditation. Because it is meditation. You don't have to sit in front of a candle to achieve mental calm. Researcher Alan Logan has described experiments in which cognitively fatigued subjects are taken on a walk, some through a concrete environment and others through urban greenspace. Then they return to the lab and undergo a battery of testing and all the markers of cognitive efficiency - memory recall, target identification, overall attention - are consistently better after having taken a jaunt through nature.

The effortless attention involved in watching drifting clouds, hearing the sound of the wind, heeding the songs of birds, is the mental equivalent of floating on your back, and this restful mind makes for a healthier you. It is through the activities that allow daydreaming - taking a shower, weeding the garden - that allow moments of insight and creativity and why great thinkers including Rousseau, Thoreau, Darwin and Nietzsche, among others, were fierce believers in nature walks.

Of course one can only walk (or run) so long or so far. My personal best is 33 miles at a stretch, but that was perhaps overdoing it. After time spent in nature, for many it's back to the laptop or phone. Roberts offers some tips on managing your online time so you can remain effective without slipping into the realm of burn-out. I'll leave interested parties to access the magazine itself for these helpful pointers, since you're already doing most of them yourself.

Thanks for staying present.

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