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Health & Spirit

Can spending 72 hours in Minnesota's woods decrease stress? We tested the idea

Sue Campbell, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Health & Fitness

"What I didn't expect was to feel so completely in the moment," Laura said.

My friend and I were walking along a forest path and had stopped to photograph lichens on a fallen branch. Behind us, the Cross River burbled toward Lake Superior. The sun broke through clouds. We'd just spent nearly an hour on a rocky beach watching salmon spawn and gulls fly.

"I'm not thinking about work, or my to-do list, or my kid," Laura said. "I'm just here, fully present."

And that, I thought, is the point.

For three days on the North Shore, I'd been hiking, watching waterfalls, cooking over a fire and stargazing as part of a nonscientific experiment copied from Sweden. The nation's tourism bureau sent five tense people with various nerve-racking jobs to remote lakeside cabins for 72 hours. They hiked, kayaked and fished. They turned off their phones. For maximum exposure to the outdoors, participants stayed in glass-walled cabins.

The central question: Could three days outdoors help tightly wound folks calm down and, through reconnecting with nature, also reconnect with themselves?

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"We can replicate this in Minnesota; the North Shore is the perfect place," the Minneapolis Star Tribune travel editor said, adding that she just needed to find someone who is super-stressed and can write. Then she looked straight at me.

I'm an editor who manages nine print sections a week, daily digital content, the quarterly Star Tribune Magazine and a staff of 26. I'm the mother of a high school senior, two older kids seeking their life's path and a new, high-energy dog. And while I know that plenty of other people have more hardships and pressures than I do, I also know I tend to rev high -- my mother has long accused me of trying to, as she puts it, "always fit 10 pounds into a 5-pound bag." Worrying is my main hobby. And yes, I'm medicated for high blood pressure.

As, admittedly, the perfect candidate -- akin to the London journalist and Paris taxi driver the Swedes roped in -- I packed my bags.

There were a few simple rules. In Sweden, researchers asked participants to rate their creativity and closeness to nature at the beginning and end of the study, and measured their blood pressure and heart rate daily. I would do the same. Also: No Wi-Fi. No devices. Keep a journal with nature observations. (Full disclosure: I cheated the Wi-Fi rule once, when my friend needed directions to the cabin. Also, I carried my phone, using it to take photos for this story.)

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