“So I just got back from a really great hike!”
“I really enjoy throwing the Frisbee around at the park with my dog.”
“Do you want to go with me to the beach, maybe swim a little bit, play some paddle ball?”
Do these sound like things you might say? How about calling up some friends to play a little pick-up basketball?  There is a lot to be said for conscientious attempts at improving physical health and well-being – establishing a gym program, setting out regularly for a run or swim.  It must also be stated, though, that unstructured and casual embraces of physical activity are equally, if not more, important.  Sports and organized exercise are not the only ways to improve one’s physical – as well as mental – self.  Among other benefits, all types of physical activity may reduce serum cholesterol and hypertension, improve bone mineral density, reduce stress hormones, and improve social skills.
Gardening, for example, while not outright physically demanding, can improve not only physical processes, but also mental ones.  Have you ever spent all afternoon planting, weeding, and pruning vegetables or flowers in your garden?  What does your body feel like the next day? Are your legs or shoulders sore?  Crouching down to plant all of those wonderful seedlings is definitely a workout for your legs.  What about that mild suntan that you picked up while out in your backyard?  Remember that getting sunlight daily is the best way to absorb vitamin D, which will allow your body to increase bone density from D’s interaction with calcium and other important minerals.
And what about that casual stroll through town with a friend?  Individuals who regularly walk have been shown to be more successful in managing weight-loss.  The friend you’re walking with? Social connectedness has been linked to all sorts of benefits, including motor skill retention, cancer survival, immune function, and overall longevity.  Walking, in addition to any other weight-bearing activities (up and on your feet) have been shown to improve bone density all by themselves.  The physiological processes are complicated, but suffice it to say that your bones respond to the stresses you place them under, and will become stronger and more rigid the more time you spend on them.  This is greatly important as we age since bone mineral composition generally deteriorates as we get older.
So now what? Well, if your social calendar is full of important events to get to, there’s probably a good chance that the personal interaction benefits could be covered, but what about all of the stress of jumping from one event to another? Maybe all you need is to just cut loose, relax, and enjoy the outdoors.  Any suggestions on how to spend a free afternoon? I know I’ll be taking my dog to the park.

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