Actress Mariel Hemingway and partner Bobby Williams have discovered the benefits of a simple, outdoorsy lifestyle. Here’s how fresh air and healthy choices can do your body good.
To reach the home Mariel Hemingway shares with life and business partner Bobby Williams, a visitor meanders through bucolic mountain roads bordering Malibu, CA. A majestic oak tree shades the circular gravel driveway that fronts the couple’s ranch-style home. Their Yorkshire Terrier, Bindu, and Border Collie, Tree, bound out of the house, followed by the couple.
Lean and unlined, with warm and welcoming smiles, the Oscar-nominated actress and former stuntman are physical and emotional testaments to the healthy lifestyle they espouse in their new book, Running With Nature: Stepping Into the Life You’re Meant to Live (Changing Lives Press). “Connecting with nature helps you live more healthfully,” says Mariel, 51, who’s most famous for her role in Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
Indeed, a growing body of research shows that communing with the great outdoors can give your health a boost. In a recent study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, healthy people who walked through a forest area for a few hours had lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, a slower pulse and lower blood pressure.
The benefits aren’t just physical. Spending time in nature may also sharpen your mind: University of Michigan researchers found that people who spent an hour outside improved their memory and attention spans by 20%. And researchers at the University of Kansas found that people who spent a few days outdoors experienced a 50% increase in creativity.
It all makes sense to Mariel and Bobby, 50. “Everyone has control over their health if they take the time,” says Mariel, who has two daughters, Dree, 25, and Langley, 23.
Here, a sampling of the couple’s healthy-living strategies:
No more “used to’s.”
“All of my friends say [things like], ‘I used to ride my bike to a friend’s house,’ ” says Bobby. “I say, ‘What do you mean, you used to? Why don’t you do it now!’ ” He and Mariel advise moving as often as you can. Stand up every 20 minutes and take short, frequent walks.
Short bursts of exercise are just as good for your health as longer workouts, according to a study at Oregon State University. Nearly half of people who participated in exercise sessions lasting 10 minutes or less multiple times per day were able to meet the federal guidelines for being active. The guidelines advise getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
“If I have a food craving, the first thing I do is go outside and take a walk,” says Mariel. “If you do something physical, it changes your energy and thought process.” Other strategies that work for Mariel include drinking water and taking five minutes to focus on your breathing.
Throw away three unhealthy items.
Start with processed foods. “I got rid of any kind of boxed mix,” shares Mariel, who recommends ditching soda and replacing it with water or juice. The couple focuses on fresh, unprocessed foods. “Mariel takes veggies from our garden and makes vegetable soup,” says Bobby.
Get in touch with your inner child.
“Remember when you were a kid? You fell over at the end of the day,” says Bobby. “Sometimes you’d be carried to bed sleeping. We’ve lost that because we’ve gotten so inundated with our everyday lives and stress. So Mariel and I go outside and play—Wiffle ball, basketball, badminton, Ping-Pong. We even play hide-and-seek.” The couple finds that being active during the day helps them sleep better. Mariel gets eight hours of shut-eye each night.
Bobby and Mariel try to keep a lid on the amount of time they spend online. “We put away our electronics at 8 pm every day,” says Mariel. That’s a good idea, since research from the National Sleep Foundation shows that exposure to computer screen light after dusk suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep.
Consider ending your day by watching the sun set. “It’s a great way to feel connected to the earth,” says Mariel.
Mariel’s mission to perserve mental health
Mariel Hemingway is passionate about mental health, since she’s lost seven family members to suicide, including grandfather Ernest. She recently filmed Running From Crazy, a documentary about her family’s battle with mental illness. “Mental illness still has a huge stigma,” says Mariel, who recently hosted the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention dinner in New York City, which Health Monitor attended. And it can be deadly: Suicide is the 10th leading killer of Americans.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent it. If a loved one has any of the following warning signs, encourage him or her to see a mental health professional: