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3 ways to connect with nature in December

With winter now upon us, you may be finding it hard to spend time outside. As temperatures drop, the days grow shorter and the weather gets snowier, it’s tempting to hunker down inside until April.But spending long stretches inside, away from sunlight, can throw off your body’s circadian rhythms, a.k.a. your body’s internal clock. Circadian rhythms help keep your sleep/wake cycles in check.

You’ll feel better if you suit up and spend some time in nature – even when it’s freezing out. It can help improve your physical and mental health, lift your mood, lower your stress and help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

With that in mind, here are three activities to entice you to leave your couch in December.

Collect greenery
December may not be peak gardening time, but you can still create your own festive wreath or garland using foraged materials. Skip expensive store-bought decor and stroll your garden, backyard or a local trail for some eco-friendly inspiration. If you’re foraging in the wild, be sure to follow responsible foraging guidelines.

Look for berries, pinecones, sprigs of evergreens and shrubs, holly, dried hydrangea flowers, seed pods, birch bark, interesting twigs and sticks – whatever catches your eye. You can do a lot with just a few items and a little twine. Best of all, your creations are compostable, so you won’t be creating waste when it’s time to take them down.

Watch the birds
A breakout hobby of the pandemic, birdwatching is a great excuse to explore the woods near your home or your backyard. You’ll be able to spot species that live in Nova Scotia year-round more easily now that the leaves are gone. Watch for sparrows, orioles, juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, cardinals and purple finches (check out this handy download for more details on winter birds).

Every December, Nova Scotia birders – experienced and new to the hobby – take part in the Christmas Bird Count, an annual tradition that’s been held across North America for more than a century. Organized by volunteers with the Nova Scotia Bird Society, the Nova Scotia count takes place in over 30 communities between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. To learn more about this year’s plans, visit the society’s events webpage and contact the volunteer organizing the count in your area.

Take a walk
Heading out for a mindful walk in the woods can help boost your dopamine levels, improving your mood and well-being. Check with your local parks and recreation department about winter-friendly trails in municipal parks. The Halifax Regional Municipality, for example, lists online details about its municipal trails, including the availability of washrooms, cellphone service and benches.

Try taking mindfulness to a new level with shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” Developed in Japan in the 1980s, forest bathing is basically taking a slow and mindful stroll in the woods. Turn off your phone and focus on what’s around you, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest. This can help boost your immune system, lower blood pressure and improve sleep.

No matter what outdoor winter activity you pick, be sure to check the weather before heading out and dress accordingly – wear layers, sturdy boots, and your hat and gloves, and bring your water bottle.

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