By Susan Cox

About a month ago as I was riding my bike in my neighborhood in the forested hills near Brown County, a large bird flew across the road. At first I thought it was one of the hawks I see regularly, but as I rode nearer I discovered that it was an owl. I slowed my pedaling to see it more clearly. How cool to see an owl, I thought, as I rode on.

Seeing wildlife is one of the things I enjoy about exercising outside. I like seeing squirrels scampering up trees and sometimes I can run by without sending the deer loping away. I also admire the varied plant life: trees with interesting leaves, bushes with fragrant blossoms, and flowers with colorful petals. My usual routes take me past wooded areas, grassy yards and open pastures.

Sometimes to change things up, my husband and I ride our bikes on the People Trails. There we can ride along the rivers and through many of the parks in town. We appreciate how the trails provide pockets of green amidst the busy roads and businesses throughout Columbus.

When family visits, we often head to Brown County State Park for picnics and hikes. We like the chance to visit while enjoying the outdoors. Sometimes we hike around Ogle Lake where we see turtles, fish and frogs. Other times we pick more wooded trails that give us views of the many ravines in the park. Even when there are others on the trails, I feel a sense of peace among the trees.

Interestingly, according to medicaldaily.com, “In a 2014 study at the University of Michigan, researchers found that group nature walks were associated with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental well-being.” I know I enjoy doing things outside, but I didn’t realize research has quantified the benefits of spending time outdoors.

Some other benefits of going outside include more restful sleep, increased vitamin D intake, increased creativity, and increased alertness and concentration. It is also easier to get more physical activity when you are outdoors.

Going outside doesn’t have to be all about exercise though. You can take your work outside, meditate outdoors, tend a garden, have a picnic or just relax outdoors instead of inside. Even when you are inside you can get some of the benefits of going outdoors by working or doing daily tasks near natural light from a window or skylight.

The world is a beautiful place. I was reminded of that once again as one recent night my son and I laid on the grass and looked up at the star-filled sky. The tops of the trees around our yard provided a nice frame for the twinkling tapestry above us. Fireflies added their winking lights to the scene. We marveled at the majesty of the view while feeling content and peaceful.

Take time to go outside and appreciate our wonderful world. Visit a state park or one of Columbus’ parks, walk or bike on the People Trails, or sit outside in your yard while visiting with family or friends. Let nature refresh you.

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at editorial@therepublic.com.