It occurred to me this weekend, that spring has finally sprung. It sneaks up on you when you live in Michigan. Suddenly, there is a fresher feel to the air – birds are tweeting, warbling and chirping as you amble to your car in the morning. And miraculously, the barren trees are sprouting a riot of flowers. The grass is lush and green. I have to admit, as a Florida transplant to Michigan, I have been a little unreasonable when it comes to accepting the staying power of my first, full Michigan winter. I promise I tried to make the best of it. But, I am not sure I succeeded as March roared in without relief.
Hiking and Dressing for the Weather
I wore layers and photographed ice formations; explored deserted state parks and scaled sand dunes that were frozen solid as glass. I even lit candles and ate beef stew. It wasn’t the cold so much. Certainly not the clear days or the snow. It was the impenetrable gray sky that began to get to me by the end of February. And on a recent trip to Mackinaw City, I was positively snippy when I could not see the bridge for the sleet and fog. I gorged on caramel corn, pouted and refused to get out of the back seat at Fort Michilimackinac.
And as a person in long term recovery, I did not even have (or want) the inevitable, go-to of a hot toddy or mulled wine to keep me warm.
But, spring is here with all its baby-blue, budding glory. And I am going to tell you, that spring in Michigan is a healthier place to be than spring in my old stomping grounds of Florida. In fact, spring in Michigan is better because of the hardships we endured over the long winter.
9 Extraordinary Health Benefits of Spring in Michigan
1. The relief after the long, hard winter
It’s sort of like the old joke: Patient: Doc, every time I take a drink of coffee I get an excruciating pain in my eye. Doctor: Take the spoon out of the cup. In other words, spring feels so good because of what it doesn’t have in it. No longer dealing with the inconvenience of ice, snow and biting cold suddenly makes you feel wonderful – for no particular reason – other than life is just easier.
2. A Big Boost to Mental Health
Unless you are Stieg Larsson, perpetual gray skies, icy winds and barren landscapes eventually make you feel blue and unproductive. There is a reason Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) is most prevalent at the start of winter. With the coming of spring, it’s natural to feel happier as nature is blooming so joyously! The sense of rebirth and renewal (not present in the ever-temperate Florida) reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves everyone’s disposition.
3. The Beauty that Surrounds
Which brings me to the gob smacking gorgeousness of a Michigan spring. And there are positive patterns of brain activity associated with looking at something so beautiful. It works the same way as art in public places does – the reward and pleasure centers of the brain are triggered. The colorful, springtime landscape actually enriches and improves the quality of life for Michiganders…
Also, a shot of springtime dopamine from the pleasure center of the brain can help to replace the craving for addictive substances…
4. Goodbye “Comfort Food”…
I’m the first person to tuck into a hearty soup and warm bread and butter when the winds are howling outside. Especially after hiking through snowdrifts. But what a pleasure to start eating clean, simple food again. There is more fresh produce in the spring, the local farmer’s markets, such as the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market in Grand Rapids, are beginning to open and the options for healthy eating abound. Kale, asparagus and peas are vitamin rich and ripe in spring. And eating alfresco in the Michigan sunshine is good for digestion!
5. Exercise Redux
I was a real trooper this winter, when it came to hiking in the coldest temperatures. And I filled in with Pilates videos and the occasional trip to the YMCA when it was too inclement to go outside. However, without the impediments of ice and snow we all feel a newfound zest for outdoor activities. Biking along a country road, running in the park or taxing our cardio capabilities sprinting up the Sleeping Bear Dunes – when you live in a moderate climate you never feel this reawakened in springtime.
6. Extra Daylight and Vitamin D
I walk with a couple of guys at 6:30 AM around Grand Rapids. In the winter, we start walking in the dark and 1 1/2 hours later, we finish in the dark. Last week I realized it was light during our walk. I looked at my watch, thinking we had somehow started later or trekked longer. But the fact is, spring brings extra daylight and extra daylight brings natural Vitamin D. What a welcome bonus after the darkness of winter. And there is a correlation between depression and lack of vitamin D. Studies have shown that the lower the vitamin D level, the greater the chance for depression. Come on, think about it, you always feel better when the sun shines and you are out in it, right?
Vitamin D helps ease depression and getting outside with friends is a cornerstone of successful recovery!
7. Look Better Feel Better
There was actually a time this winter when I looked down at my bare legs and saw scales. Scales, like a Florida alligator might sport. No matter how much cream I slathered on my body this winter, a dusting of dry skin clung to the lining of my leggings and wafted to the floor like lackluster snow… My hair developed the dreaded “split ends”. Household heating and winter’s cold wind suck the moisture out of everything. Spring cleaning applies to personal grooming here in the north. Michiganders clean up their acts and look better in the spring. And when you look better, you feel better!
8. Water, Water All Around…
It is impossible for me to write an article about the health benefits of Michigan without talking about the Great Lakes. Even at my snottiest, shivering in Mackinaw City, I appreciated the splendor and power of Lake Michigan-Huron. When the weather warms, splashing in the big lakes or walking along the shore is a huge health and wellness benefit to those who live in Michigan. And we are surrounded by Great Lakes experiences and opportunities…
9. Community and Connection!
Bears do it – spending time with friends and emerging from hibernation helps build a healthy mindset. No more cabin fever for those of us who live in the mitten state! And outdoor activities like picnics in the park, after dinner strolls or working in an urban garden develop a sense of shared community and pride in this marvelous place we live.
The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection… Johann Hari
Do I miss the Atlantic Ocean, predictably mild weather year-round and palm trees? Occasionally. But, would I miss a Michigan Spring? Not a chance – springtime in Michigan brings a rebirth of all things, a widening of the path to recovery and a natural broadening of interests. I work for Sanford House Addiction Treatment Centers. I am a person in long term recovery. Spring reminds me, and all of those who experience its splendor, that life is well worth living. And worth living well…