ParkTalk Podcast - Take a Hike: The Benefits of Walking in Nature

Friday, October 20, 2023

Episode description:

Guests Kirsten Mullinax from Northshore Edward-Elmhurst Health, and Amy Phillips from The Conservation Foundation discuss the annual Take a Hike! Challenge and the benefits of walking in nature.

View of the woodland at Knoch Knolls Park in the fall

For a complete list of ParkTalk podcast episodes, visit

Quotes from the episode:

"Every year at the end of the program we send out a survey to ask people what were the benefits that they noted. Some of the biggest benefits that they reported were improved mood, sense of well-being, improved sleep, reduced stress levels, more energy and the motivation to become more active in the day-to-day. One of the things they loved the most about the challenge was finding out about different trails they hadn't looked at before. Several commented on how participating in the challenge led to sharing quality time with family members. And people joined hiking groups and formed new relationships." - Kirsten

"If you are walking in a forest or on a prairie (vs. along city streets) the air is cleaner and you have less distraction with the motorists and things like that. There are studies that talk about phytoncides; it's basically some chemicals that trees and plants produce and when we breathe them in it boosts our immune system. One more thing: I know a lot of people that suffer with seasonal affective disorder and getting outside and getting that sunlight, even in the winter, is really, really good for you. Even as the seasons change it's very important to get outside." - Amy

Our Guests

Kirsten Mullinax, Manager, Marketing & Growth, formerly Community Outreach Program Manager

North Shore - Edward-Elmhurst Health

Kirsten earned her Bachelor of Science in Honors Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and went on to a career in research and pharmaceutical sales, before a stint as stay-at-home mom. Her love of medicine and health brought her to Edward Hospital in 2005 where she held various roles before becoming involved in Community Wellness Outreach and Education in 2014. She has loved interacting with members of the Edward-Elmhurst Health community, connecting them to health education from providers and working on programs with individuals and partner organizations, focused on community health needs. Edward-Elmhurst Health merged with NorthShore University Health System in the Fall of 2021 and Kirsten recently moved into a role in Marketing, helping to connect patients of the entire system with health services.

Amy Phillips, DuPage County Program Director
The Conservation Foundation

After working as an architect and sustainability consultant for many years, Amy made the leap to lend her talents toward nature interpretation and education, leveraging her background in design and sustainability toward inspiring the next generation. In addition to Masters degrees in Architecture and Business Administration, she holds a Master of Science in Biomimicry, an interpretive STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) field that educates and inspires designers to rethink the decisions they make by learning from nature. She is a NAI Certified Interpretive Guide, Network Co-Leader at Biomimicry Chicago, and recipient of the 2015 Green Mind Award for Educational Advocacy from the Urban Green Alliance. Amy focuses on key tasks associated with River Sweep, Adopt A Stream, and our Nature Rx programs. Amy and her husband David are raising their son and daughter in Naperville and keep busy with their activities, caring for their Conservation@Home-certified yard, their seven backyard chickens and two dogs.

Knoch Knolls Park woodland in the winter


Take a Hike! Challenge. This web page has hiking tips for each of the 8 weeks of the Challenge. The Challenge is closed for 2023 at the time of this podcast posting (mid-October), however the resources and tips are available here year-round to assist you in your hikes. There is a link for signing up to receive notification of the 2024 Take a Hike! Challenge, which will begin in early September and run through the end of October 2024. Additionally, you may want to join the "Healthy Driven Take a Hike" group on Facebook that our guests mentioned that has inspiring photos and comments.

Ways to Engage Children in Hiking. (suggestions from Kirsten Mullinax with some additional links to Naperville Park District resources)

. Play a game of I-Spy

. Encourage children to take photos of different types of leaves, trees and bark

. Look for animal tracks, insects, birds and animals along the way

. Go a nature scavenger hunt while hiking. Naperville Park District has several mobile tours for families.

. Add a calisthenic challenge

. Each time you see a ______ do 3 jumping jacks or keep count

. Give older kids a map and ask them to be your navigator

. Have discussion questions on how they feel, favorite vacations, biggest fears, etc. to make it a relationship-building opportunity

. Play hiking bingo

. Go to a trail with a playground - At the Naperville Park District, you can use the Parks and Facilities Search to find parks with trails and playgrounds.

. Create a mini-fitness challenge that includes something to do every 5 minutes. Kids can run the timer.

. Have kids pause periodically and name things they see, hear or feel

Explore Naperville Park District Trails. Use the Park and Facilities Search to find Naperville Park District parks with trails. On each park page with trails there is a trail map available for that park and a link to the Naperville Trail System page with regional trail maps and general information about using the trails.

DuPage River Trail at Dorothea Weigand Riverfront Park in the spring

All Trails App. This mobile app has trail maps from locations across the U.S. and around the world.

ParkRxAmerica. Learn more about the benefits of spending time outdoors.

Nature RX at The Conservation Foundation. Learn more about this local initiative to connect people with nature.

Naperville Riverwalk in the summer