Rena Salamacha, CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System

While home confinement kept us safe during the worst of the pandemic, good health always begins with a regular routine of physical activity. The evidence is quite clear: Those who keep active demonstrate a decreased risk of chronic diseases and a more positive outlook on life.

Now that summer approaches, and Covid restrictions have eased, we all need to heed the call of the great outdoors. One would surmise that those of us living in a rural community are more likely to attain recommended levels of physical activity compared to urban and suburban counterparts. Sadly, the opposite is true.

Across the country, approximately 21% of the adult population achieves the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Those rates are disproportionately lower in rural areas. Accordingly, decreased activity rates among rural residents brings a higher risk for cancer and other chronic diseases.

Because rural residents make up 15% of the U.S. population, it is imperative we reverse this alarming trend.

Perhaps we can all begin with celebrating June as Great Outdoors Month. Back in 2019, the U.S. Senate officially designated June as Great Outdoors Month, extending a directive under President Clinton in 1998 to create a Great Outdoors Week. It’s all part of a push to encourage healthy, active outdoor fun by introducing kids and first-time participants to outdoor recreation activities close to home.

We all live in a region ripe with opportunities for outdoor physical activity. Here are five good reasons to get outdoors:

  1. Your vitamin D levels rise. Sunlight naturally creates the activation of vitamin D. Studies suggest that this vitamin helps fight certain conditions, from osteoporosis and cancer to depression and heart attacks. It’s important, however, to limit sun exposure and always wear a safe level of SPF to protect skin from harmful UVB rays.
  2. You’ll burn more calories. If getting outside becomes a goal, that translates to less time in front of the television and computer and more time walking and doing other things that put the body in motion.
  3. You’ll be happier. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin, which is associated with boosting mood and helping us feel more calm and focused.
  4. You may heal more quickly. Researchers have discovered that patients who spend time outdoors during their recovery require fewer painkillers, have fewer complications and experience shorter hospital stays.
  5. You’ll age more gracefully. According to a study in the Journal of Aging and Health, adults over 70 who spent time outdoors experienced fewer sleep difficulties, complained less about aches and pains, and enjoyed improved mobility and ability to perform daily activities.

Inspiration is all around us, with countless ideas on how to enjoy yourselves outdoors in our community. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • San Lorenzo Park: Along the Salinas River, this picturesque park sits at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains. San Lorenzo offers immaculate day-use facilities that include picnic areas, a gazebo, playgrounds, horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, softball areas, and a walking trail along the river. It features large group picnic areas, and home to the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum.
  • Pinnacles National Monument: Less than 20 miles from King City, these spectacular remains of an ancient volcano should be on everyone’s list. Massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages await discovery. Whether you’re hiking, bird-watching, picnicking or rock-climbing, Pinnacles is indeed a local treasure.
  • King City Skate Park: Renovation of the park is now complete several weeks ahead of schedule, and it reopened in early May. Complete with new ramps, the design was developed using a public participation process to incorporate input from local youth. The city will host a formal grand reopening ceremony on June 21, which happens to be International Skateboard Day. It goes without saying, however, please wear appropriate safety gear.
  • King City Golf Course: Opened in 1953, the nine-hole short course features 2,833 yards of golf to create a par of 35. The public course stays open year round and provides four sets of tees of varying difficulty.

Be aware. The benefits from putting in all these valuable hours outdoors can quickly be eroded through poor eating habits.

We live in the Salinas Valley, referred to as America’s Salad Bowl. We all need to take better advantage of the bounty around us. With produce at its peak during the summer months, now is the perfect time to indulge in nature’s finest by eating the freshest vegetables and fruit.

We can purchase that produce while directly helping our small family farms by shopping at local farmers markets and farm stands or participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Soledad’s Certified Farmers Market (100 block of Soledad Street) is scheduled to reopen in July on Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. An updated list of markets in each California county can be found at

In general, farmer’s markets provide regular access to fresher, healthier food than most grocery stores. And access to fresh fruits and veggies is a huge contributing factor when it comes to community health and wellbeing.

We live in a fast-paced world, and it’s important to know where our food comes from, who grew it and how it was grown. Our connection to the food we eat has never been more important. Shopping at our local farmers market is a great way to support a healthy lifestyle and the community at large.

We’ve all been waiting to see light at the end of a very long tunnel. We can now see that light, with some of it coming in the form of summer sunshine. Being outdoors is the safest and healthiest place to be right now. So let’s all fill our calendars with activities that naturally lead to a more healthful lifestyle.

Remember, the biggest challenge is taking the first few steps out the front door.

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CEO, Mee Memorial Healthcare System


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