An Introduction To The World Of Letterboxing

On our recent visit to the Edgar M. Tennis Preserve on Deer Isle, Russell, Betty and I not only had our first exposure to the tremendous scenic beauty found on the Preserve, but I also had my first exposure to the world of letterboxing.

Letterboxing, according to the Urban Dictionary, is an interesting combination of hiking, orienteering, travel, and sharing adventure with fellow hikers.  The goal in the letterboxing world is to find waterproof letterboxes that are kept in scenic places like the Tennis Preserve — some of which are harder to find than others.  When you find the letterbox, you’re supposed to leave a message, stamp the message book in the letterbox, and also stamp your own letterboxing book so you can keep a record of all the letterboxes you’ve visited.  Not being aware of the world of letterboxing, or that the Tennis Preserve had a letterbox, I didn’t have a letterboxing book with me when we came across the Tennis Preserve letterbox, so I couldn’t stamp my own book.  We did, however, leave a message and used the cool shell stamp to record our visit to the letterbox.  Fortunately for us, the Tennis letterbox wasn’t hard to find, either.

It was fun to thumb through the Tennis Preserve letterbox notebook to see how had visited — we were surprised to learn that somebody had been there before us on the day of our visit, even though we were hiking early in the morning — and I think letterboxing would be an enjoyable, and very healthy, hobby.  Any pastime that gets you out of the indoor world and into the fresh air in places like the Tennis Preserve has got to be beneficial, both physically and mentally.  And the stamps are pretty cool, too.

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Stand-Up Stand-Down

Lately there has been an explosion of stand-up desks at our office.  Old-fashioned sit-down desks — the kind that I use — are increasingly being replaced by adjustable desks that allow you to move your computer from a desktop location to stand-height.  I’ve gotten used to walking past offices and seeing people standing rigidly behind their desks, starting at their computer screens and clicking on their mouses.

skymall-adSeveral people in our office have gone even farther, and opted for non-adjustable, permanent stand-up desks — but even that might not be enough for the true believers.  The last time I was in the office of the Biking Brewer, for example, he not only had a permanent stand-up desk, he had no chairs of any kind in his workspace, explaining that if he had a chair he might be tempted to sit in it.  So, the last time I stopped in to talk, I ended up kind of perching on a narrow window ledge during our conversation.

If you ask the stand-up crew why they’ve chosen these new desks, the inevitable response is “because it’s healthier.”  You’ll hear about burning more calories by standing than sitting, and avoiding heart and back problems, and enhancing bone density, but all of the rationales asserts that stand-up desks are healthier than sit-down desks.

Not so fast!

Researchers are starting to question whether the stand-up desks — or for that matter treadmill desks, or exercise-bike desks — really make an appreciable difference.  The studies that purport to show that stand-up desks make a positive health difference have been found to be small and poorly designed, and health researchers note that standing for long period can have adverse health consequences — like causing enlarged veins.  Enlarged veins?  That sounds vaguely disgusting.

Of course, people should try to move around at work.  Take the stairs rather than the elevator.  Consider whether you should walk to a co-worker’s office rather than sending an email or making a call.  Get away from your desk and walk during the noon hour.  But let’s have a little skepticism about studies that purport to show that stand-up desks are the key to office good health.

In fact, the health researchers quoted in the news article linked above says that most of impetus for stand-up desks right now is that they are “fashionable.”  I’ll say!  But  I’ll gladly resist the trend and just plop my keister down in my comfortable chair at my desk before I get to work.

Getting Down And Dirty

The New York Times carried an interesting article recently about how the “dirt cure” can make children healthier.  The theme of the article, which featured an interview with pediatric neurologist and author Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, is that children are better protected against illness and infection if they are routinely exposed to dirt — by eating natural, non-processed foods and by playing outside, with hands and knees on the soil.

2501c9ff68b8ed08549c745f9bddd4c0In the article, Dr. Shetreat-Klein relayed two fascinating things about dirt.  First, in one teaspoon of soil, there are more organisms than there are humans on our planet.  (That sounds impossible, but it’s one of those factoids that is often cited in articles about soil.) Second, soil is home to about 25 percent of Earth’s biodiversity — in the form of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, mites, microbes, and microarthropods.  There’s a lot going on below our feet that we never even think about.

Studies show that kids who play outside tend to be healthier, do better on standardized tests, have lower cortisol levels, which means they’re calmer and less stressed, and be more creative.  Dr. Shetreat-Klein thinks all of those attributes might be related to exposure to the teeming population underground.

I can’t speak to the science of it, but I suspect that Dr. Shetreat-Klein is right . . . and that there’s an additional reason for the results reported in those studies, which is that playing outside is just a lot of fun.  Of course kids who get away from their houses and play with their friends outside, explore a wooded area, build a dam in a stream, and turn over rocks just to see if there’s anything underneath are going to have stronger immune systems, because of what they’re exposed to, but they’re also going to be more curious, more self-reliant, and more willing to take risks because that’s what playing outside is all about.

Our mother used to groan when UJ and I came home with faces streaked with dust and shoes caked with mud, carrying caterpillars or crayfish or a captured garter snake or a big, weirdly shaped toadstool that we and our neighborhood friends found in the woods that encircled our houses, but I think it did us a lot of good in a lot of ways.