The Impact of Happiness on Health & How to Create More of It

backpacking lesson sunset

Can cultivating happiness actually make you healthier? 

According to well-established research on the connection between the mind and body, the answer is a resounding yes. Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology indicates that our mood and life outlook has a significant impact on our physical health. Reduced happiness not only results from poor health, but is also a potential contributor to disease risk. 

The Impact of Happiness on Health

A positive outlook on life is associated with reduced mortality, enhanced immunity, and engaging in healthier lifestyle habits, like diet and exercise. In addition to a host of other benefits, people who report higher levels of happiness also slept deeper and showed lower levels of cortisol and inflammation. Being happy may also protect your heart, lengthen life expectancy, and reduce pain

Furthermore, research indicates that mood can impact the body’s ability to respond to viruses. In one study, older adults who reported greater mood disturbance (anger, fatigue, confusion) had poorer cytokine responses to live virus, whereas those who reported greater vigor and optimism had greater cytokine responses. 

How to Create a Happier Life

Happiness encompasses feelings of joy and pleasure, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and life satisfaction. Here are 7 ways to increase happiness in your life: 

  • Connect with people you love. This could be a phone call, a text, or Facetime if connecting in person isn’t an option. 
  • Engage fully. Research by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly suggests that people report the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing.
  • Laugh more. Studies show that the more you laugh, the healthier you are. Intentionally surround yourself with whoever and whatever makes you laugh, whether that includes friends and family or funny cat videos on the internet.
  • Express gratitude. If you don’t already have one, start a gratitude journal and write down five specific things that you’re grateful for today. 
  • Serve someone. Be kind to someone. Share uplifting words. Volunteer. Taking care of others provides a sense of purpose and increases life satisfaction.
  • Know what won’t make you happy. Humans can be bad at judging what makes them happy. Research shows that money and material things, youth, and having children are common misconceptions in this category.

Identify what brings you true happiness and make time in your schedule for it. Prioritizing happiness may just be one of the best things you can do for your health!

Interested in a free guide to five anti-inflammatory foods to eat daily? Grab yours here.

How to Stay Grounded in Times of Uncertainty

grounded

A Blueprint for COVID-19

A global pandemic is enough to shake even the most grounded of us into fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. This is a perfectly human response and it’s important to acknowledge and to feel what we’re truly feeling. However, if we stagnate in those emotions, we decrease our immune function and squander our precious life energy.

In a nutshell, how this works is that our brains respond to fear by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which causes us to produce more adrenaline and cortisol. Over the short term this is fine, and even beneficial when escaping prey, but over time, it wreaks havoc in our bodies, decreases immune function, reduces mental clarity, and eventually leads to chronic illness.

The intention of this post is to provide practical strategies for finding your center during times of uncertainty. And really, all of life is uncertainty, so being adept at finding your footing is a worthy endeavor. 

Before we go any further, I want to speak to my privilege. I recognize the extent to which millions of people are suffering right now. I know that I’m fortunate to be in good health at the moment. I understand that I’m privileged to work from my laptop, from a safe space, and to have the resources to purchase food and supplies. 

This is not the case for others. This post is not meant to diminish or minimize anyone’s suffering. It’s intended to offer a path forward as we all manage our perfectly human responses of concern, worry, and fear amidst a sea of uncertainty and rapid change.

A Framework

Leaning into the stoic perspective can be particularly useful in times of massive upheaval. Stoics not only expect obstacles and uncertainty, they embrace them as a path to growth and freedom. The intention is to alchemize every experience, “positive” or “negative”, into lessons. These lessons can be used to live a more expressed version of your life, to unblock limiting beliefs, to dismantle unfounded fears. They can also be shared with others with the intention of easing the learning curve. 

That idea, along with a deep TRUST in reality and in myself is the foundation of what keeps me most grounded. I do as much as I can do to intelligently prepare for a situation, to mitigate risk, and then I trust that life will unfold as it’s meant to. I trust that the challenges I/we go through will ultimately be for the best, and I trust in our resilience.

If either, or both, of those perspectives serve you, feel free to put them on right now, as you would a cloak. From there, use the following strategies to further ground yourself in this time of turbulence. Generally, it helps if you go in order.

Accept What Is 

Resisting or being in denial of reality is a waste of energy and it does nothing to move you or the collective towards a solution space. We are living through an unprecedented health crisis. Recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We fear what we cannot control, and the unknown is something we cannot control.

When we’re in fear, we suffer because we want reality to be different from what it is. When we stop arguing with reality, we free ourselves, and we’re able to consciously choose how we wish to respond. 

Check In with Yourself

Ask yourself the following: “How am I doing right now? On a scale of 1-10, how do I feel?” Honor whatever comes up. Based on the first answer, ask “What’s the next best thing I can do to go from a 3 to a 4 (for example)? What’s the next small step?”

Give Yourself What You Need

Take the information you gleaned from the check-in and give yourself what you need. Maybe it’s a bath or to connect with a friend or to be in nature or to get in a workout or to paint. Whatever it is, give yourself what you need to create a sense of personal safety and ease. Don’t discount the impact of small practices. Acknowledging and taking care of your needs is essential to remaining grounded. A big piece of taking care of your needs will involve taking care of your physical body.

Nourish Your Body

There’s never been a better time than now to take care of your health. Physical health is the foundation of mental/emotional health. The basics (below) of taking care of your physical body by extension create a resilient immune system. Optimal health and resilience is something that’s built over time, through the combination of several practices. If you’re not already doing all you can to support your precious body, start now.

  • Reduce Stress (physical, emotional, mental). Meditation is a great tool.
  • Sleep, at least 7-8 hours nightly, if possible.
  • Eat fresh food to the extend that you can afford to do so.
  • Cut out sugar (a major immune suppressant!).
  • Get sunlight daily.
  • Move your body. Walk, do yoga, find YouTube workouts.
  • Breathe. In times of acute stress, start with 4-7-8 or box breathing.

Each of these could be a whole article in itself, but for now, just start and do your best.  These physical practices are something you CAN control right now and they’re a way to empower yourself. 

Create Stability Anchors

During times of uncertainty, it’s imperative to intentionally create practices that anchor you when the wild waters of change are pushing you to and fro. Stability anchors are anything that are consistent and reliable in your life and which create a sense of safety. The best stability anchor is internal and goes back to the “Framework” section, discussed above. From there, put external stability anchors in place, but know that anything external (which is susceptible to falling away) will never be quite as solid as internally generating a sense of groundedness and trust.

Routines can be indispensable in this category. If you’ve been knocked out of your normal routine, do your best to establish a new one and stick with it. Stability anchors can also include safe housing, regular phone calls with loved ones, a daily morning walk, an evening wind down ritual, or a healthy meal plan.

Protect Your Mental Space

Think of your mind and what goes in it similarly to how you think of your body and the food you eat. If you allow junk into your mind, it will have a direct impact on your clarity, focus, and emotional state. Be cognizant of what you’re putting into your brain. This includes anything you read, watch, listen to, and who you converse with. Choose wisely when it comes to news sources, podcasts, social media accounts you follow, and the company you keep. It’s all influencing you. 

On that note, be mindful of how much time you spend taking in outside sources of information. Be informed, but be aware of at which point you’re no longer gathering information and you’re just feeding the reptilian (fear-based) brain.

Personally, before consuming content, which pushes me into reaction mode, I prefer to make the most of my cognitive fuel by focusing on my own creative work and my intentions for how I want to feel. This requires solitude, or at the very least, closing off the fire hose of incoming information. Turning off notifications, leaving your phone on Do Not Disturb and giving yourself time limits on social apps can work wonders for this. On Instagram, do this from your profile page by going to the three lines in the upper right corner > Settings > Your Activity > Set Daily Reminder. 

Articulate the Silver Lining

I believe hope and optimism are powerful forces, especially in crisis. I’m not referring to blind positivity. I’m speaking to the importance of seeing a potential upside to a situation, so that you don’t get bogged down in the heaviness.

Yes, this situation is real and it’s having massive impacts on every single one of our lives. And while being informed is essential (we’ll get to that next), it’s important not to focus solely on the bad. That’s what our brains will naturally do as a primal protection mechanism, but that often leads to a negative spiral and paralysis. Again, sitting in that fear state does not serve you or those around you. When you operate from a place of emotional strength and calmness, it has a powerful effect on others.

So, can you take the 30,000’ view and find a silver lining? Start close in. What can you be grateful for at this moment? You’re alive. You have the resources to be reading this. Your list may also include having a roof over your head, being given the chance to slow down and focus on your health, having more time to spend with family, having space to work on art or other creative projects. Next, move out to a larger scale. Is there beauty to be witnessed? Are there lessons to be gleaned? Perhaps this includes awakened compassion, taking care of each other, generosity, increased resilience, the connection found in shared hardship, and the creativity that comes out of necessity and restriction.

Educate Yourself

Stay informed. Investigate. Assess the risks and focus on actionable problem-solving strategies you can employ.

Part of staying grounded is knowing the reality of a situation. It’s not burying your head in the sand and being in denial. Without an accurate assessment of the situation, the mind will create stories. Get your information from reliable sources and take the precautions necessary.

Personally, I think it’s preferable to potentially overreact and to do what I can to be part of the solution than to under react completely and know that I could’ve done more.

In this instance, know the signs of infection, know how to prevent infection, and know what to do if you or a loved one gets infected (ie. have a  plan, which we’ll cover next). There are plenty of resources covering those topics, so I won’t detail them.  Start here.

Here are some further resources to help, both for your own education and for further re-sharing:

  • Coronavirus stats – This page shows frequently updated virus stats for all countries, so you can see at a glance what’s happening. Also follow some of the links for deeper stats and data.
  • Stay the Fuck Home – This is a good page for referring people. It shows simple actions to be taken immediately and handle multiple translations for different languages.
  • Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now – Tomas Pueyo’s powerfully persuasive piece with lots of math-based reasoning, charts, and graphs (more than 28M views in the past week). 
  • Jason Warner’s Facebook post – A solid math-based post to help persuade people of the importance of changing behaviors immediately.  
  • Messages from Italy – This is a short YouTube video of Italians under lockdown sharing what they wished they’d known 10 days earlier.

Have a Plan & Take Action

Action dissolves overwhelm. It feels better to do something than to feel like you’re simply responding to whatever happens. Knowing how you’ll respond in a worst case scenario further dissolves anxiety. As they say: Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Do your best to prepare and to mitigate risk. The following list was taken from this excellent article.

  • Slowly start to stock up on enough non-perishable food to last your household through several weeks of social distancing at home during an intense wave of transmission in their community.
  • Think through, now, how you will take care of sick family members while trying not to get infected by them.
    • If you have loved ones in an aged care facility, ask the facility about its plans for keeping their residents safe from flu (a similar situation) and whether they have thought about what they will do if SARS-CoV-2 is spreading widely.
    • Check that your parents and grandparents have prepared a Will and have considered an Enduring Power of Attorney in case they are unable to make care-based decisions for themselves.
  • Think through how you will take care of dependents if you are sick yourself.
  • Make plans for childcare when you are sick, or when your child is sick.
  • And of course: Take measures to not get sick (truthfully, these are actually measures to « get sick as late as possible »)
    • Practice touching our faces less. Right now, today, start practicing not touching your face when you are out and about!  You probably won’t be able to do it perfectly, but you can greatly reduce the frequency of potential self-inoculation. You can even institute a buddy system, where friends and colleagues are asked to remind each other when someone scratches her eyelid or rubs his nose.
    • Replace handshakes with elbow-bumps (the “Ebola handshake”). 
    • Start building harm-reduction habits like pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip.
    • Build your immune system now. Get your vitamins, eat your vegetables, go for a walk barefoot in the sun.

Other ways to take action: 

  • Share the above message in the hopes of informing anyone who may not be taking the necessary precautions; this literally saves lives.
  • Serve someone. Is there someone you can help with your words? 
  • If you can afford to do so, continue to support your local economy.
  • Learn something new.
  • Connect: call/text/facetime the people you love.
  • Move your body.
  • Create something beautiful and share it.

Take It Day by Day

Trust. Know that humans are resilient. You’re resilient. We’ve been through crisis before and we’ll get through this. Yes, there have been lives lost and many more will be lost. All you can do is control what you can control and let go of the rest.

Things are changing rapidly. Step outside and ground into nature. Stay fluid and flexible. Allow yourself to feel it and then come back to your center.

Practice

We become what we continually practice. 

Cultivating inner strength and resilience is a process, not a destination. You will falter. You will spin out from time to time. That’s okay. That’s our humanity and it’s beautiful. Let it happen when it happens. And when you’re ready, breathe, and return to the practices in this blueprint. Return to your center.

Download all of our free holistic health resources here.

Resupply 101: Options & Tips for Food Drops on Your Long Distance Hike

ODT resupply

What am I going to eat?!? 

This is a big concern for hikers heading out on a long trail. What, when, and where you’re going to pick up your next food drop on a hike is something that you’ll want to consider, at least briefly, before hitting the trail.

This article will cover how to start planning your food resupply for the trail. We’ll review your options, including the pros and cons of each, and wrap up with some tips for execution.

Resupply Planning Overview

Begin by identifying where you absolutely must send a box. There will almost certainly be at least a couple of towns like this on each trail. These towns have extremely limited or non existent resupply options. You’ll need to look at what resupply options are available in a town and determine if that’s adequate for how you like to fuel your hike.

In that regard, it’s helpful to know ahead of time what type of food makes you feel best when you hike. I encourage you to experiment before you get on the trail! For instance, I (as you might imagine) like to eat pretty healthy, so five days of snickers, pop-tarts, and pastries wouldn’t cut it for me. Others might be ‘fine’ with this. The point is that it’s important to know thyself. 

You don’t have to find resupply information from scratch! Nearly every trail has an associated trail organization that will provide some information on resupply options available in each town. Use that guide to determine where you will need to send a box. Additionally, you can find other hikers’ resupply strategies for a particular trail by reading trail journals. You can also consult survey results from each year’s previous class of hikers

resupply

How to Send a Box When One is Needed

Once you determine where you need to send a resupply box, you have a couple of options on how to do that. You can 1) purchase your food ahead of time, box it up, and solicit a point person to send it out for you, or 2) you can purchase food on trail at a town that’s 100-200 miles ahead of the town where you’ll need the box sent. Plan for mail to take at least five days. 

Food boxes can be sent General Delivery via the United States Post Office (USPS). Alternatively, they can be mailed to a store, motel, or restaurant in that town that accepts hiker food boxes to be sent to them. Either way, call ahead to inquire about the correct address and hours. Additionally, if it’s not a PO, ask whether the place accepts boxes and if there’s a fee associated. Also ask if it’s best to send USPS, FedEx,  or UPS.

To find the Post Office that handles General Delivery in any area, call 1-800-ASK-USPS or check usps.com. Rates are found on the website and currently, they range from $13-19 for medium to large flat rate boxes.

How to address your USPS box for general delivery:
JANE HIKER
c/o GENERAL DELIVERY
TOWN, STATE ZIP

It’s recommended to write “PLEASE HOLD FOR HIKER (name), ETA: (date)” somewhere on the box. Furthermore, it’s recommended that you use priority mailing via USPS because, if for some reason, you cannot pick up your box, you can “bounce” that food box to another post office up/down the trail or request it be returned to sender.  On that note, always include a return address.

Options for Your Resupply Strategy

Now that we’ve covered how to handle your resupply when you absolutely need to send a box to a location, let’s look at your overall strategy.

Essentially, you have three options: 1) Prepare boxes in advance to send to each location you want a box. 2) Buy as you go, sending boxes ahead to each location you want a box. 3) A mix of the above strategies. Read on as to why you might choose one strategy or another. 

Buy Ahead Resupply Box Approach 

This option entails preparing and packaging food at home to send to towns on trail where you determined you need or want a box. You buy groceries in towns where you don’t send a box.

This approach requires that you purchase all of your food in advance, (possibly) repackage it, and box it up before you hit the trail. It also requires that you have a responsible point person to send your box out in a timely fashion. If boxes aren’t picked up at the PO within two weeks of arrival, they’re sent back to the return address. As a footnote, if you think you won’t make it to the PO for your box on time, try calling them, explaining the situation, and asking them to hold it a bit longer. Be kind and they’ll likely say yes. 

For best success with this option, pack your box ahead of time, address it, and have it ready to go, but do not tape it shut. It may be necessary to have your point person add or subtract items that you discover you need or don’t need in the box. Additionally, you might consider numbering your boxes, so when instructing your point person to send a box you can email, phone, or text and say, “please send box #3 out by this date.” This ensures no thinking or second guessing on behalf of the point person. Make it easy for them!

PROS
  • You can guarantee your nutritional needs, wants, and desires. Organic and options for restricted diets can be limited. A good option for those who need prescription medications.
  • You can budget your food.
  • No need to spend time in town purchasing food for the next stretch. Less chores in town frees up more time for relaxing. Alternatively, you may choose to just pick up your box and leave town. In that sense, this option is great if you’re in a hurry.
  • You can send hard to find items like gas for your stove (IF YOU SEND VIA GROUND ONLY). Basically, if there’s a need you discover while on trail, you can ask your point person to send it.
  • You can add your maps for your food box to avoid mailing them separately.
CONS
  • You’re stuck eating what’s in your box. Of course, you could send it back and purchase in town if needed, or you could throw it in the hiker box. But typically, the cost of not eating what you’ve already purchased, packed, and mailed outweighs the cost, time, and energy of sending it back home and buying in town.
  • Requires more planning time before you hit the trail.
  • Post office hours vary and sometimes you may get into town after the PO is closed or on a Saturday whereby you will have to wait until Monday morning to get your food. PO’s can close down seasonally.
  • The box gets sent back because it wasn’t picked up in time.
  • The delivery gets mixed up by your point person or just fails to get to the PO.

Buy As You Go Resupply Approach

If you don’t have dietary restrictions and you want to ease the pre-planning time before you embark on your adventure, the buy as you go option is ideal. 

Most towns have grocery stores, both large and small, where you can purchase food. Others, however, have only a gas station/convenience store, which is basically the “bottom of the barrel” when it comes to nutrition.

PROS
  • You can support local businesses.
  • You can purchase the food you are craving and change up your menu as you hike.
  • If you have food left over when getting into town, you don’t need to buy those items in town.
  • You’re not tethered to the open and close times of the PO.
  • If you have to leave the trail due to illness, injury, homesickness, etc… you don’t have a ton of un-eaten trail food boxed up at home. (If you do, you could donate and send it to hikers in need).
CONS
  • Prices can be slighter higher than average in a remote grocery store.
  • Organic, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc… foods and specialty items are typically not available in small towns.
  • Hikers ahead of you may wipe out staple items like tuna packets, ramen, coffee, etc. before you arrive.

Combined Approach

You could use a combination of both strategies. This entails sending some resupply boxes ahead of time, from home, and mailing some ahead while on trail. For some, this is the best of both worlds. To determine which towns need a box sent and how to do that, consult the first section of this post. 

For the boxes you send from home, send those to places where you want to send prescriptions medications or where you want to send food items you can’t get in most towns. This may include dehydrated foods you’ve made ahead of time or specific brand name or specialty items. For sending boxes from on trail, the idea is to ensure freshness, satisfy new cravings, and adds variety to your trail diet. 

tiny town healthy resupply

General Resupply Tips

  • Create a resupply spreadsheet. Having a spreadsheet with your resupply locations, whether you’ll send or buy from that location, how much food will be needed for the next stretch, and any other pertinent information is helpful for staying organized and reducing stress once on trail. Be sure you can access this spreadsheet from your phone and leave a copy with your point person, if you have one. Here’s a sample from my Oregon Desert Trail hike. Feel free to use this as a template!
  • Collect tiny condiment packages throughout the year. These little packets of ketchup, mustard, honey, hot sauce, relish, salt/pepper, etc. are perfect for tossing into your resupply boxes you send from home. They can really spice up a trail meal 😉
  • Add flair to your resupply box. There will be hundreds of boxes JUST LIKE YOURS sent by hikers JUST LIKE YOU to these post offices. Adding a giant sticker of a walrus, unicorn, yeti, etc. to the side of the box helps identify your box from others. When you arrive to pick up your box, give them your name and say, “it’s the one with the giant pink squid on the side.” 
  • Add extra ziplocks into your resupply box. You may decide to throw some of your food into the hiker box and/or purchase some food that needs to be re-packaged. 
  • Consider tossing in travel size soap, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, razor, etc. for resupply boxes to towns where you plan to take a zero day. 

Related Posts

How to Create a Healthy Resupply from a Convenience Store

Sample Lightweight Healthy 5-day Meal Plan 

The Thru-hiker Calorie Myth: What your diet is missing and how to eat for optimal energy and endurance instead

Want to prepare your body for optimal endurance, energy, and recovery on your next hike? Watch our free Adventure Ready Masterclass on creating your unique nutrition plan!

How Nature Immersion Improves Physical + Mental Health

This post originally appeared here on The Trek.

Why does being in nature feel so good? I considered this question a lot after I finished thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) last autumn, as I rapidly slipped into a state of apathy, and, concurrently, watched my glowing post-trail health decline. For those of us who spend hours wandering the outdoors, we’re intimately aware of how nature immersion improves physical and mental health. Now there’s a growing body of research to support what we’ve intuitively known. 

Humans Evolved Outdoors

We have an innate connection to the Earth. We’ve known this for a long time. Do you find comfort in the sound of rustling leaves, the feeling of the breeze against your cheek, and the sight of sunlight filtering through the trees? I imagine there are few humans who don’t. Nature is where we evolved and it’s our place of respite.

Biophilia (love of life and the living world) is a concept made popular by American biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984. He believed that because we (humans) evolved in nature, we have a biological need to connect with it. We love nature because we learned to love the things that helped us survive. We feel comfortable in nature because that is where we have lived for most of our time on earth. 

“And this affinity for the natural world is fundamental to our health. (It’s) as vital to our well-being as regular exercise and a healthy diet. Just as our health improves when we are in it, so our health suffers when we are divorced from it.” E.O. Wilson

An Urban Species

We have increasingly become an urban species, spending around 90% of our time indoors, with an average of about 11 hours per day on our devices. According to research in the book Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li, this has resulted in anxiety, headaches, depression, mental fatigue, eye strain, insomnia, frustration, irritability, and reduced quality of life. 

By 2050, about 75% of the world’s projected 9 billion people will live in cities. The stress associated with living in cities is causing a lot of sickness, including more heart attacks, strokes, cancer, anxiety, and depression. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls stress the health epidemic of the 21st century

The Benefits of Nature Immersion

growing body of data suggests that connection to nature impacts the following health parameters:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Diminished pain
  • Improved cardiovascular and metabolic health
  • Improved concentration and memory
  • Reduced depression
  • Improved pain thresholds
  • Improved energy
  • Improved immune function (an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells)
  • Increased anticancer protein production

Nervous System Regulation + Stress Reduction

Of particular importance is the effect that nature immersion has on the nervous system. The nervous system is responsible for the stress response. Increasingly, people are spending more time stuck in the sympathetic (fight or flight) mode of the autonomic nervous system, and consequently, less time in the parasympathetic (rest and repair) mode. Sympathetic overactivity is related to several diseases, particularly many of the chronic diseases that are so prevalent today. For that reason, shifting our nervous systems into sympathetic mode as often as possible is imperative for long-term health. While there are many natural approaches to lowering stress, nature immersion is free and backed by science. 

Research shows that forest bathing, the practice of walking in the forest, lowers the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline; suppresses the sympathetic system; enhances the parasympathetic system; lowers blood pressure, and increases heart-rate variability. 

How the Wilderness Improves Health

How exactly is nature immersion improving our health? Based on research cited in Forest Bathing, there are several mechanisms of action, including the reduction in screen time and noise pollution, cleaner air, and the soothing sight of the fractal patterns of nature. Additionally, there are two powerful health enhancers found in forests. These are phytonides and a specific class of microbes.

Phytonides

Forests not only have a higher concentration of oxygen, but the air is full of phytonides. Phytonides are the natural oils within a plant that are part of a tree’s defense system. Phytonides protect plants from bacteria, insects, and fungi. Evergreens like pine trees, cedars, spruces, and conifers are the largest producers of phytonides. The main components of phytoncides are terpenes. These are all those scents you smell as you hike through the forest. The major terpenes are: D-limonene, alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, and camphene.

Phytoncides increase NK cells and NK activity, enhance activity of anticancer proteins, decrease levels of stress hormones, increase hours of sleep, decrease scores for tension, stimulate pleasant mood, lower blood pressure and heart rate, increase heart-rate variability, suppress sympathetic activity and increase parasympathetic activity. 

Microbes

When we walk outdoors we breathe in mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria from the soil. This bacteria boosts the immune system and a boosted immune system makes us happier. 

Connect Through All Five Senses

nature immersion

Research cited by Dr. Li suggests that the greatest health benefits come from connecting to nature via all five senses (that’s right: hearing, sight, smell, sound, and touch). For example, natural silence, and the sight of the natural fractal patterns of nature reduce stress by as much as 60%. In terms of smell, researchers found that there are a few factors associated with forest bathing, which increase mental clarity and our sense of well-being. These include phytoncides and M. vaccae (discussed above), and the presences of negative ions in the air. In terms of touch, grounding (skin to earth contact) maintains the flow of electromagnetic energy between your body and the natural world. Grounding reduces pain, boosts immunity, and decreases inflammation. Regarding taste, there are the many nutritional benefits of truly wild foods, though you must be educated and careful while experimenting. 

Minimum Effective Dose

nature immersion

A study in Nature, which included 20,000 participants, indicated that 120 minutes a week in nature is significantly associated with good health and well-being. It didn’t matter whether that time was in one long session or several shorter sessions per week. Furthermore, the results applied across different ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, genders, and levels of baseline health. 

How to Get Started

You likely don’t need me to tell you how to immerse yourself in nature. However, review this basic outline to ensure you get the most health benefits from your time in the wilderness.

  1. Find a spot in nature. The farther away from city noise, the better, but if a city park is your only option, that will do.
  2. Engage your five senses. Doing so pulls you out of your incessant thoughts and drops you into your present surroundings. 
  3. Sit in one spot or walk at a steady meandering pace. The goal is not necessarily to get in a workout or even to get anywhere. This mindset shift may be the most challenging part for those of us accustomed to hiking long trails.
  4. Complete this practice for a minimum of 120 minutes per week.

That’s it! You’re now getting all those research-backed benefits of nature immersion. To dig deeper into this topic, start with this article, and then move on to Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing LiThe Nature Fix, and Ecopsychology. For bonus points, sit on the ground, in the sun, while you read.

Plan a Retreat for Greater Freedom, Clarity, and Effectiveness

adventure ready

A retreat is simple and effective way to get perspective on your life, release limiting patterns, and return refreshed and more free to show up as a better version of yourself.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” For those of us with busy schedules and a pile of projects we’d like to tackle, this oft-cited phrase is an important reminder to pause and refill ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

While attending a wellness retreat in an exotic location can be a wonderful reset, this isn’t always an option, logistically or financially, nor is it a necessity in order to have a rejuvenating break from your normal routine. 

The benefits of intentionally setting aside time to ‘unplug’ are myriad. Primarily, this includes the opportunity to break free from patterns and routines that don’t serve you, a reduction in cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’), decreased depression, improved sense of well being, as well as increased focus and clarity. Essentially, you return to your normal life more fully present and ready to be better at everything, from your training to your career to your relationships.

Use the following simple outline to create a retreat that leaves you rested, nourished, and clear-headed.

Define Your Goal

What is the primary outcome you’d like to receive from your retreat? Will it be devoted to health, wellness, and self care? Is there a certain creative project you’d like to make progress on? Would you like this to be a time for deepening your spiritual practice? Take a moment to envision how you’d like to feel at the end of your retreat. Select your top objectives and set your intention.

Choose the Date and Location

An at-home retreat is affordable and keeps planning simple. However, if you’re unable to hold your retreat at home, or if you prefer not to, book a small cabin nearby to keep logistics easy. Set aside an entire weekend, from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, if possible.

Send Invites (optional)

If your retreat vision includes others, invite a few close friends. Depending on your focus, intimate companions and deep discussion can facilitate growth and expansion for everyone. Let the potential attendees know your intention and expectations as well as event details, like dates, location, and what they should bring.

Clear Your Calendar

Call the babysitter (or dogsitter). Tell friends and family your plans and that they shouldn’t expect to reach you during this time. Delegate any tasks that need handled while you’re away. During the retreat, turn off your phone and resist the temptation to check email. Let this be a sacred time for you to truly reconnect with yourself. 

Plan Activities & Meals

Design a general outline for your days. Consider these ideas: include some form of physical activity, like morning yoga and a hike in nature; read a book (spiritual or personal development are good options); set aside time for meditation; indulge in your favorite self care, like baths, massage, journal time, or other creative pursuits. Plan a few simple, healthy meals, and gather your ingredients.

Process & Integrate

Before wrapping up your retreat, reflect on your weekend. Did you have any insights or mindset shifts that you’d like to carry back into your daily routine? Jot these down and make a plan for how you will include them in your life, post-retreat. 

With a bit of planning, you can enjoy the well-deserved benefits of a retreat without the hassle or expense of going to a far off location!

Want a free eBook on How to Eat for Endurance on the Trail? Grab your download here.

Recover & Repair from the Holidays

hiking season

The Trail Show Salty Segment February 2020

The Question

Dear Salty, 

The holidays are over and winter is in full swing. I feel sluggish and tired, but spring is taunting and I know when it hits I will want to be ready to hit the trails. I know I need to just get out and exercise more, but what else can I do to repair my body so I’m ready to go?  

I know there are all kinds of cleanses but how do I decide which one and how do I know which supplements are just sawdust in a gelatin capsule? I don’t regret my choices. I had a great holiday season, but I know I’m a wee bit depleted. 

Thanks for all your wisdom…hope to see you in the colon cleanse aisle at Whole Foods.

Buckles

The Answer

Great question, Buckles, and good for you for getting a jump start on a healthy hiking season.  This is a great time to repair your body so you’re fully prepared when spring rolls around!

Safely Incorporate More Movement

Like you mentioned, getting back to regular movement is a great start. If you’ve been inactive for the winter, remember to start low and go slow with building up. This will help you avoid injuries that could derail your hiking season.

Focus on Whole Foods

The place to start with repairing your body from holiday overindulgence is getting back to a primarily whole foods diet. As a reminder, whole foods are things that don’t have an ingredient label, such as broccoli, fish, apple, etc. 

Rest & Repair the Body with a “Cleanse”

A “cleanse” can be a good reset for the body and helps some people to make a clear transition in their minds into a new phase where they’re prioritizing healthy habits. The basic idea is remove inflammatory foods so your body has a chance to divert resources to repairing your body. Reducing inflammatory foods is also fantastic for supporting a healthy microbiome, which is imperative for nutrient absorption and assimilation.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d suggest trying the AIP protocol or Whole30. These involve removing inflammatory foods, like alcohol, sugar, dairy, and grains for 30 days. If you really want to go for it, there are many benefits to fasting. To avoid having a really hard time, messing up your metabolism, and/or losing muscles, it’s imperative to choose the right type of fast for your body and to approach it in a smart way. This is particularly important if you have hormonal imbalances or adrenal issues. Read this post, do your research, and consider working with a practitioner who can safely guide you. 

Keep in mind, the focus of these cleanses is not restriction and rapid weight loss (though weight loss may occur). It’s about giving the body a reprieve from incoming stressors and allowing it to be repaired. But, you don’t have to be extreme, and actually I’d suggest you don’t because those approaches generally aren’t sustainable. 

Repair with the Right Supplements

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get on a high quality multivitamin or greens power for a month or so to top off vitamin and mineral stores that have been depleted by overconsumption of nutrient poor food, stress, alcohol, and lack of sunlight. 

To avoid buying sawdust (or worse), I’d suggest going through a practitioner or online dispensary rather than purchasing the cheapest thing you find on Google or Amazon. To create a free account and receive 10% off professional grade supplements, you can use my online dispensary here

Speaking of vitamins, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get on a high quality multi or greens power for a month or so to top of vitamin and mineral stores that have been depleted by over consumption of crappy food, stress, alcohol, and lack of sunlight. It also supports your microbiome which is the foundation of feeling good

Get More Sunlight

Another free tactic I’d highly recommend is that you start getting out in the sun. This will support your circadian rhythm which supports proper hormone production which supports immunity, digestion, and restful sleep. I’d say get out at least 3 times per day- morning, noon, and night-for a minimum of 10 min each time. This will also help with vitamin D synthesis which will help with a lot of things, including the sluggishness. If it’s not possible to get outside for sunlight where you live, consider red light therapy or full spectrum light therapy. 

Recover & Repair Recap

So, to recap, whole foods and exercise are the foundation. If you’re called to do a cleanse or fast, do it safely by doing your research first. Top off vitamin stores through a good multi and/or greens power. Support your gut with fermented food and soluble fiber. Finally, get outside for sunlight three times per day. 

Do these things and you’ll be ready to crush those miles once spring rolls around.

These tactics (and much more) are exactly what we cover in the online Adventure Ready course, where you learn how to go from winter mode to being completely physically prepared for hiking season. We cover nutrition, creating a training plan, how to optimize your gut health, upgrading your sleep so you perform and recover optimally, and how to manage your stress to keep your hormones functioning at their peak levels. 

Related Posts

How to recover from holiday overeating
TTS Q last january: how to recover from overeating

If you’d like to submit your own question for a future Trail Show Salty Segment, click here.

Fasting: the benefits, the variations, and how to choose the best option for YOU.

fasting

Fasting has experienced a renaissance of late, and for good reason. When practiced correctly, it confers myriad benefits, enhancing one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual health. There are many variations of fasting and it’s important to know how to choose which is best for you. 

Most likely you or someone you know has experimented with some form of fasting in recent years. Fasting- the practice of abstaining from food for extended periods of time- has a rich history of use across many cultures. It’s been used therapeutically since at least the 5th century bce when Greek physician Hippocrates recommended it for various ailments. He believed it was the key to allowing the body to heal itself, and once said, “to eat when you are sick, is to feed your sickness.” 

Benefits of Fasting

Fasting is a hot area of research and there are many proven benefits to employing some form of fasting on a regular basis. This includes improved body composition (favoring fat burning and muscle preservation), increased energy, appetite regulation, better gut health, improved immune system function, enhanced brain and heart health, longevity and disease protection, and improved willpower. Most of these benefits stem from the process of autophagy, which essentially is the body’s way of taking out the cellular garbage.

Fasting Variations

There are several different ways to fast. These range from shorter periods of caloric restriction, which is not a true fast, but yields similar benefits, to a multi-day water fast, which can be quite healing, but is also fairly stressful on the body.

Consider the following options: 

  • Intermittent fasting: daily fasts between 12 and 18 hours 
  • 24-hour fasts: one or two 24-hour water only fasts per week 
  • Alternate day fasting: water only or one meal per day, every other day 
  • Bone broth fasting: bone broth only for multiple days
  • Caloric restriction: five consecutive days of 500-800 calories 
  • Multi-day water fasts: water only, usually for 3-7 days

How to Choose the Best Option for You

Keep in mind that fasting is not for everyone, and more is not always better. Furthermore, there’s no one-size-fits-all protocol. Your gender, your health history, and your goals all come into play. 

Although water only and multi-day fasts can be a powerful healing tool, they can also be quite taxing on a body that is already stressed, sick, or very active. If you have poor health, hormone imbalances (especially thyroid), or adrenal issues, consider a shorter fast or fasting less often. Keep in mind that research has shown that most of the major metabolic benefits can be achieved after as little as 12 hours of fasting. 

Gender is also a consideration. Women’s hormones tend to be more sensitive to fasting than men’s, so women should be a bit more cautious. For instance, females might start with shorter intermittent fasts, and gradually build up before moving on to longer fasts, such as a 24-hour fast. Pay attention to how your body reacts and do not over-stress your system.

It’s recommended that you check with your doctor before undertaking any form of fasting. It can also be helpful to work with a knowledgeable practitioner to tailor a fast to your current health status and activity level.

Fasting is an accessible and free tool that can have powerful impacts in your quest to live a long and healthy life. Choose the option that’s right for you and begin your journey on the path to enhanced vitality!

This article was originally published in Wishgarden Herbs.

Interested in more strategies to keep you at the top of your wellness game all year round? Download your free wellness guide to increase your energy, optimize body composition, and keep sharpen your mental health.

How to Prepare for Big Physical Goals

by Guest Contributor Heather “Anish” Anderson

An ACE certified personal trainer with over 30,000 backpacking miles, Heather became the first female triple triple crowner and the first female calendar year triple crowner when she hiked the AT, the PCT, and the CDT in one March-November season in 2018. She holds the overall self supported FKT on the PCT and the female FKT on the AT and AZT. She is also an ultra marathoner, peak bagger, and mountaineer working on several ascent lists in the US and abroad. Heather is a speaker, and is author of the book Thirst, which chronicles her PCT record.

It’s that time of year again…where we start reflecting on the past 365 days and making resolutions for the next 365 days. So many of our determinations revolve around health and exercise; including those who plan to do a long-distance backpacking trip as their New Year’s Resolution.  But why do we spend so much time resolving to do better in the arena of wellness and often times not end up following through?

I think so often our goals are unreasonable. We want to attain perfection without the work. Or, don’t fully understand the commitment to lifestyle and mindset change that is not temporary. These, along with our deep-seated dissatisfactions with our own selves, are fuel for the “failure fire.” I could write volumes about this, but for this blog I’m going to focus on a few points especially with regard to preparation for a big, physical goal (like a race or long-distance hike) since that’s my specialty as a personal trainer.

First of all, I’ll start with the essential (and shockingly, often not obvious) truth that you need to know and accept: You are capable.

You are capable of achieving your goals. It might take you a longer time or more work than someone else, but you are capable of effecting great change, massive health improvements and finding yourself able to complete things you couldn’t previously. The key is to believe in your ability to improve.

Secondly: Set stepping stone goals.

I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years and the number one reason people drop out of a program is because they’re not seeing the results they expected right away. The truth is you won’t see the end result without long-term work. It’s great to have a big, audacious goal. But once you have it, break down the steps you’ll need to get from where you are to that goal and focus on building from one sub-goal to the next. You’ll stay motivated in your training when you’re seeing the results you expect as you reach each subsidiary benchmark.

Take a cue from long distance hiking: when you start the Appalachian Trail, you’re going to get demoralized thinking about walking 2,193 miles. Or even across 14 states. Think instead about hiking to your campsite each day, or to the next town. These short term, attainable goals feed that sense of accomplishment you need to keep going. One by one, all these mini-goals stack up to make a whole thru-hike. In the same way, looking at your long term goal through the lens of all the mini-goals that make it up and you’ll find a string of successes that builds upon itself.

Third: Realize this is a commitment to life-change, not just means to an end.

It’s fine to make a dietary or physical activity change for short term goals, if that’s what you want. But realize that if you’re serious about becoming healthier, preparing your body to age well, or prepping for a long-term physical goal it will require life change. You’ll be undoing ingrained habits and replacing them with new ones. Chances are you’ll have to start with concreting foundational changes that may seem imperceptible into your routine before moving on. That’s why the first two steps I listed are so crucial. If you set unrealistic goals, or go too hard too soon you’ll burn out. Think of the changes you’re aiming for as a journey, not a destination. Just like you can’t get from Springer Mountain, Georgia (the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail) to Mount Katahdin, Maine (the northern terminus) in 10 days on foot, you can’t completely overhaul your wellness and exercise habits in a day either.

If you’re looking to make the changes necessary to really prepare you for long term success remember to take it one piece at a time.  Set your intention not just for the New Year, but for your life. Begin making changes and focus on cementing one solidly in your foundation before moving on to the next. Start with the goal of 20 minutes of exercise every day. Once you’re successfully doing that without missing days you’re ready to take the next step…toward whatever your long-term goals are. If they include preparing to complete a thru-hike you might consider the Adventure Ready online course that Katie Gerber and I have collaborated on.

To stay in the loop for the next enrollment period for Adventure Ready, and to get on the VIP list for early bird promotions, join the email list here (plus get a free winter wellness guide!).

How to Stay Consistent with Anything

When it comes to making progress in anything, being consistent is key. As I often talk about with clients, it’s not one meal, or even one day, of poor choices that ruins your progress. It’s what you do day in and day out, over time. 

Staying consistent is something that most of us struggle with at some point, especially when we’re first implementing new habits. Maybe it’s staying consistent with your 5am workouts or sticking with your keto (or paleo or vegan or whole foods or…) eating plan. Or maybe you want to meditate daily or stop drinking sugary beverages.

Your start with good intentions. You’re so dedicated to sticking with your goal that you can’t imagine how anything could possibly get in your way. And then the dog pukes on the carpet right when you’re headed to spin class or you didn’t have time to hit the grocery store and now you don’t have healthy snacks on hand. 

Suddenly, all bets are off. Your good intentions fall by the wayside and you end the day feeling defeated. You vow to try again tomorrow. Or, worse, you let the failure feeling spiral into the F-it mentality. I ate one slice of cake, so now I may as well eat 4. Sound familiar?

Progress, Not Perfection

Implementing and sticking to your well-intentioned plan can be a challenge. Fortunately, there are a few tools you can use to set yourself up for a greater likelihood of success. We’ll cover that in a moment. But first, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be perfect in your habits to make progress towards your goal. 

In fact, I recently read an article where the authors analyzed over 1000 nutrition clients to assess how consistent you need to be to see body transformations over the course of a year. It turns out that you don’t need 100% consistency to see results. Even a little bit (10-49%) of consistency in your health habits resulted in an average of 11 pounds lost and a 5-6% reduction in body fat. Of course, more consistency led to greater results, but the point is that you can let go of the idea that you need to be perfect to see results. You can miss your health habit half of the time and still see progress. Whew, what a relief!

Habits are the Foundation

When it comes to consistency, building in habits is key. Whether ongoing research determines that willpower is finite or that it behaves more like an emotion that ebbs and flows, the argument for creating habits to achieve our ideal outcome remains the same. 

When habits are in place, we no longer rely on willpower to do what we know we ‘should’ do. Once we’ve put in the effort to establish the habit, it more or less keeps going on auto-pilot, and we can direct that precious energy elsewhere.  

When it comes to creating habits, and being consistent, here are 7 tools to set you up for success.

Know Your WHY

This seems obvious, but it’s so often overlooked. It’s truly the foundation for everything. When you know your WHY, you’re more motivated, and the obstacles which will inevitably arise, are easier to overcome. 

Take 3 minutes, get quiet, and understand your true motivation for wanting to implement a certain new habit. Allow the truth to come up without judgment. Do you want to be healthy so you can play with your kids? Do you want to lose 10 pounds so you look better naked? Do you want to journal everyday because it helps you be a better spouse? Whatever it is, write it in a note on your phone and revisit it often. Daily is ideal. Stay very connected to your WHY. 

Start Small

Baby steps. Don’t overhaul your entire life and attempt to change all your habits at once. Let’s call this the New Year’s Eve effect. We all know that person who is a sedentary junk food eater and decides to quit smoking, go vegan, and start working out daily all within the first week of January. What happens? By January 7, they’re back to their old habits, feeling like a failure. 

Sustainable change and new habits happen one building block at a time. Focus on one new habit for at least 2 weeks before moving on to the next. If this habit is a particularly big change, give it your mono-focus for longer. Additionally, if your desired outcome is a big leap from where you are now, create ‘stepping stone’ goals. These should be ridiculously easy to achieve. So easy that failure is impossible. This prevents overwhelm and creates positive momentum.

Do the Hard Things First

Prioritizing your challenging tasks is especially important when building in new habits. Implementing new behaviors requires energy input, which is often higher at the beginning of the day. Furthermore, when it comes to something like working out, it’s often easier to fit it in first thing in the morning, before the chance arises for something to throw our well-meaning plan off course (i.e. an unscheduled meeting, an unexpected phone call, an appointment that runs long, etc.).

Set Yourself Up for Success

Remove as much thought and effort from the process as possible. For example, when it comes to maintaining healthy eating habits, try meal prepping, a home delivery service, or keeping the pantry stocked with staples for quick healthy meals. This way, you don’t end up making poor choices because you got home late and didn’t have the time or energy to make something healthy. Likewise, say your goal is to go for a 30 minute walk every morning. Set your outfit out the night before, prep your coffee or breakfast in advance, and set your shoes by the door. 

Essentially, do whatever you can to make it easy to follow through with your desired habit. 

Create Accountability

This is more important for some people than for others, so it’s helpful to know yourself. If you know that you do better when someone is counting on you to show up, then create accountability around your desired habit. 

This might be connecting with a workout buddy or a trainer who meets you at the gym 4 days per week. Or perhaps this looks like you announcing your goal to a supportive group that can hold you accountable. Or if you’re really committed, you enlist the help of a coach  who helps you clearly define your goals and then keeps you on track towards reaching them.

Track Your Progress

In the same vein as creating accountability, tracking your progress can be a powerful way to build momentum. You could use a basic wall calendar where you mark each day with an “X” when you perform your habit. Put the calendar where you will see it daily and never let two days in a row go by where you don’t have an “X” on your calendar. 

When I work with clients, we use a simple spreadsheet to track consistency. We both have access to the spreadsheet and I review it regularly, which also leverages the accountability principle.
 

Identify Potential Obstacles & Develop a Plan (ie. Worse Case Scenario Thinking)

It’s so much easier to make the ‘right choice’ when we envision in advance what might go wrong and how we’ll handle it. I do this all the time in the wilderness. What would I do if a bear ate all my food tonight? What would I do if I encounter a creep while I’m out here alone? What would I do if I got bitten by a venomous snake while I’m hiking alone? I run through all these ‘worse case scenarios’ and decide how I would proceed. That way, should any of these events occur, I’m not caught off guard. I don’t have to think through how I’ll proceed in the moment. I already know.

You can leverage this same principle with developing habits and staying consistent. For one week, pay attention to the times that you don’t follow through with your desired habit. What are the circumstances when this happens? What is your ‘excuse’? No time? No healthy food on hand? It was raining so you couldn’t go out for a walk?

What are all the ways that you currently throw you off or that could potentially throw you off? Write them down. Now, go back down the list and decide what you could do in advance to prevent that from happening or to handle the event so you could still accomplish your habit.

Perhaps the solution is to schedule 2 hours of meal prep every Sunday evening so you’re set up for healthy eating all week. Perhaps you hire a trainer for a month so you learn the ropes at the gym and feel confident with your workouts.

Identifying our obstacles in advance helps us to make the right choice when/if we do bump up against an obstacle that threatens to derail our plan. When we’ve made the decision ahead of time, we tend to follow through more in the moment.

“Fall seven times and stand up eight” -Japanese Proverb

Remember, progress, not perfection. If you’re reading this, it’s quite possible you’re am ambitious, type A, overachiever. You’re likely used to doing well at things and you may even have the habit of beating yourself up when you ‘fail’. Hey, I get it.

But, please, don’t waste your precious life energy doing that. If you fall off the wagon, pick yourself back up and start over. That’s it. We’re all human. We all mess up. Use that energy that you would’ve put towards self-flagellation and redirect it towards getting back on track.

If this information was helpful to you, consider enrolling in our online course Adventure Ready. It’s designed to up-level every area of your health from body composition to gut health to fitness so that you can get out on your dream adventure feeling your best.

Supplements on the CDT for Energy, Immunity, and Endurance

supplements on trail

In addition to the steps I took to prepare my body for this hike (which I detail here), I credit this supplement protocol with keeping me strong, healthy, and energized for 3 months of 30+ mile days.  Here’s the exact stack of supplements I used for my sub-100 day CDT hike.

Why I Use Supplements

Generally speaking, I prefer to meet nutritional needs through a diet centered around whole foods. However, due to our depleted soils, our compromised food system, and our chronically stressed lives, whole foods are not always enough. Furthermore, strenuous exercise, like backpacking all day, increases the body’s needs for high quality nutrients. The lack of access to fresh food on trail adds another challenge. even when not on trail.

For these reasons, carrying a few thoughtfully chosen supplements on my backpacking trips is worth the extra weight and expense to me. Supplementing gives me more energy, improves my stamina, and boosts my immune system (which keeps illness and injury at bay). I go much deeper into the how and why of supplementing on trail in this post.

Supplements I Carried on my CDT Hike

I’m stubbornly minimalist on trail. To a fault, I’d say. But it is what it is. The point is that this list is significantly pared down from what I might take at home.

Additionally, what I carry may not be what you carry, if you choose to take supplements at all. Because our bodies are all different and have different needs. 

This list is not intended to be a recommendation. It’s provided for informational purposes only. It’s also important to note that I didn’t take these every single day. I took them probably about 80% of the time. 

The Method

Because I like to eat what I like to eat on trail (which I’ve explained extensively here, here, and here), I like to send resupply boxes. The way I handle supplements is that first I choose shelf-stable ones (most are, but pay attention with probiotics and fish oil). Then I look at my resupply sheet (like this one) and I divvy them up into small plastic baggies with the number of pills per baggie corresponding to the number of days of food in that box. For example, if I’m creating a bag for a 4-day stretch of trail, I put 4 of each pill into the baggie. Then I drop the bag into the box. It’s that simple.

I don’t worry about supplements in the resupply stops where I don’t have a resupply box. The idea is to get them into my body often enough to boost my health significantly, but not to be overly strict about it.

I generally took my supplements with a morning meal or snack, except where otherwise noted.

These supplements went into every box: 

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha, Withania somnifera, is an adaptogen herb. That means it helps regulate the body’s stress response. The root and berry of this plant are used to make tinctures and capsules. It’s anti inflammatory, immune boosting, balances blood sugar, reduces cortisol, regulates the HPA axis, and may reduce stress/anxiety/depression. I find it most effective when taken daily for months at a time. 

Astaxanthin 

Astaxanthin is a reddish pigment that belongs to a group of chemicals called carotenoids. It occurs naturally in certain algae and causes the pink or red color in salmon, trout, lobster, shrimp, and other seafood. In addition to improving heart health, preventing diabetes, and decreasing the risk of brain damage from stroke, it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. 

Those are all great benefits, but the real reason I carry it on a long hike is that it serves as ‘internal sunscreen’ by protecting the skin from damage caused by UV (ultra-violet) exposure. On my entire CDT hike, I wore sunscreen less than a dozen times, and only on my face. I never got burnt anywhere besides my nose all summer. 

Spore-based Probiotics

Probiotics have a host of benefits, including boosting the immune system, supporting brain function, and enhancing mineral absorption. These healthy gut bacteria can even contribute to hormone balance and the production of certain neurotransmitters. There are many types of probiotic supplements to choose from. When I’m backpacking, I choose a spore-based probiotic because it’s more shelf-stable than other varieties.

Additionally, certain spore-based probiotics have been shown to heal leaky gut by closing tight junctions between colonocytes, increasing the thickness of intestinal mucosa, and up-regulating secretory IgA levels that support the body’s natural defense against infections. This is important for hikers who are likely consuming little to no probiotic-rich foods, and are eating a less-than-ideal diet.

Turmeric

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is a root from the ginger family which is known for its bright orange color and it’s role in Indian cuisine.

It’s also one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs available. It aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and performance in active people. It’s a must have in my book, on trail and off.

Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12

Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12 is a vitamin B12 blend formulated for nerve and mitochondrial support. Adenosyl/Hydroxy B12 helps support carbohydrate metabolism for the enzyme methylmalonyl-CoA as well as the synthesis of neuronal myelin.

I carried this one because pre-trail blood work indicated that I was low. Speaking of which, having blood work done is a good idea before you start guzzling supplements willy-nilly. You can order your own online, but it’s a good idea to work with a practitioner. These are real compounds with real effects in the body.

Multi Vitamin

A high quality multi serves as nutritional insurance for me. This is particularly important because of the lack of fresh foods in my diet (which is where we get many of our vitamins and minerals).

The micronutrients found in a good multivitamin play an important role in energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, maintenance of bone health, adequate immune function, and protection of body against oxidative damage. Additionally, they assist with synthesis and repair of muscle tissue. Exercise tends to deplete our vitamin stores more quickly. Therefore, I like to cover my bases with a high quality supplement. 

Colostrum

Colostrum is the first form of milk produced by mammals immediately after giving birth. It’s rich in antibodies and helps the body build a strong immune system. It also rebuilds gut health and can aid in recovery.

My favorite brand is Surthrival. It’s a powder that you dissolve in your mouth. I didn’t take it daily, but I included it in at least ⅔ of my resupply boxes. I’ve found it crucial in keeping my gut healthy and my autoimmune symptoms at bay. It’s best taken on an empty stomach.

Magnesium

I often took a magnesium powder dissolved in a small amount of liquid before bed. The purpose was to relax my muscles, aid in muscle recovery, and to promote sound sleep. I use this off trail as well. This is the powder I use. 

Let Food Be Thy Medicine

In addition to the above protocol, I also hid extra nutrition and superfoods into my resupply box where I could. This was particularly true in my smoothie, which I had almost every single morning on trail. 

Trail Smoothie

It includes a greens powder, coconut milk powder, collagen peptides, chia seeds, cordyceps mushroom powder, ground cinnamon powder, ground ginger powder, and sea salt. For the full recipe and why this is such a powerful, blood-sugar balancing way to start the day, read more here

There you have it. This is exactly how I complimented my healthy eating plan for more energy, immunity, and endurance on my sub-100 day CDT hike. For more resources on how to build strength, health, and resilience before your next adventure, see our online course Adventure Ready.

Related: 

Healthy Lightweight 5-Day Meal Plan

Diet & Supplements for Managing Tendonitis Naturally

How to Choose the Best Electrolytes

Adaptogens for Athletes

How to: Supplementation on Trail

Free Guide: Supplementing Wisely