One of my favorite things about starting a new year is the chance to sit down and think carefully about how I want to change my life moving forward. In fact, I love these opportunities for growth so much that I also celebrate my own personal new year on my birthday. I plan to read a certain number of books, take a long-awaited vacation, or even just to prioritize my mental health more. Apparently, I'm not the only one who looks at their birthday as a potential start for a new chapter. Jenna Fischer's Instagram post about her fitness goal showed that she celebrated the start of her birthday week with a very admirable challenge: to hike every other day for two months.
As her self-proclaimed biggest fan from her days on The Office, I probably shouldn't be shocked at this challenging goal, because Fischer seems to be great at everything she does, both IRL and in her iconic role as Pam Beesly. After all, she was the only one brave enough to walk barefoot over burning coals in the "Beach Games" episode of The Office.
Really, though, it's Fischer's attitude about her fitness goal that's even cooler than the goal itself. "I set a new fitness goal today...30 hikes in 60 days! First hike is done! Thank you to my husband Lee for hiking very very very slowly with me today. #birthdayweek#fitnessgoal#hiking," she wrote in the caption to the photo.
Even though Fischer wrote on Instagram that she and her husband hiked "very very very slowly," she didn't let that stop her from being proud of the accomplishment, not to mention excited for the 59 days to come. This goal seems to be more about the journey than about crushing the hikes as quickly and strenuously as possible, and that's totally in line with Fischer's attitude toward other kinds of fitness.
When it comes to working out, Fischer is all about activities that help to quiet her mind. "When I do yoga regularly, I feel so good," Fischer told Good Housekeeping back in January. "It's my mind, body, and spirit cleanse." As the yoga session progresses, she explained, she begins to notice her worries fall away so that she can actually relax a bit. "As we get started with stretching, the first 20 minutes of every class is usually me fighting my brain to relax, to stop making to-do lists," she said, "and to stop making notes on my mental calendar. The more poses we do, the more my brain gets quiet."
Hiking can have a similar mind-quieting effect, Dr. Aaron Baggish, associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Harvard Health Blog. "There’s a real sense of peace and composure you get from being outside and away from everything," he explained.
But a stroll around the block, while still beneficial, probably won't relax you as much as a traditional hike in nature will, according to a study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The research showed that being active outdoors, particularly in a natural environment rather than an urban one, seems to have the most powerful effect on your mental health. For the study, researchers asked participants to take a 90-minute walk through either a city environment or in more remote nature to test how the two activities affected the brain. Those who trekked through nature, the study found, had significantly fewer negative thoughts and less activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness, compared to those who walked through a city environment.
If you're totally on board with Beesly's (I mean Fischer's) fitness goal, but you don't exactly have access to a mountain, you can definitely put your own spin on things. Try committing to doing a little bit of yoga every day, or just walking in a nearby park, and hopefully you'll feel your mind start to relax.