Several recent studies have found that when we spend time outside, in a natural setting, our creativity and problem solving abilities improve.
“Exercising in nature can have more mental health benefits than on a treadmill.” said David Straker, adjunct assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. Fortunately, Idaho and Montana offer endless opportunities to get outside and improve our prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes.
Both states offer abundant venues for recreating in a variety of natural settings. Hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, floating, paddling, wildlife watching, and photography are some of the more popular activities. National parks have exceptional scenic landscapes to take in, community parks offer space for relaxing or tossing a ball with your dog, there are even parks for playing Frisbee golf and, of course, numerous traditional golf courses.
Playing a round of golf on any one of the many outstanding courses in either Idaho or Montana benefits the brain and body just as much as any of the other outdoor activities. Walking and swinging a club increases blood flow, improving nerve cell connections in your brain, which in turn improves strategic thinking and hand-eye coordination.
You burn around 1000 calories per round, a little less if you are using a cart, a little more if you are walking. Also, focusing on that little white ball both near and far improves vision by working the eye muscles.
It takes about four-and-a-half hours to play 18 holes, and the continuous exposure to all that green vegetation reduces stress, helps decrease anxiety, and relaxes the body. In addition, various studies indicate a little bit of vitamin D from the sun also helps reduce heart disease and depression, among other health risk factors.
Both Idaho and Montana have top-rated courses, public and private, in a variety of natural settings. If you want to add a little more bulk to your brain’s grey matter, check out the Old Works Golf Course in Anaconda for some history with your golf. This course was built on the historic Anaconda copper smelter property. Many copper smeltering relics have been incorporated into this Jack Nicklaus Signature design course.
If you like Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, hop over the border to the Idaho Club, just east of Sandpoint, Idaho. It has 11 holes on the Pack River and adjacent wetlands and seven on the Moose Mountain side. With water and/or vegetation on either side of the fairway, you want to keep your ball going as straight as possible.
The Idaho Club course is designed to be a bit tough; however, all of the golfers I know say the same thing about tough courses, “That’s the point, we want to be challenged. That is what makes it fun.”
Another “fun” challenge is landing your ball on the famous 14th hole floating green at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course, ranked one of Americas best 100 courses by Golf Digest. So many balls end up in the water that divers periodically collect them.
Amateur golfers feel more connected with professionals when they play a well-designed course that is just as challenging for them as a U.S. Open course is for the golfing elite.
U.S. Open courses are supposed to be difficult, and amateur golfers can empathize when they watch top pros like Phil Mickelson have a really, really bad day.
According to one study out of Sweden, conducted at the Karolinska Institute, golfers can expect an extra five years of life.
So, just keep that in mind every time you shank a ball or keep landing it in the sand traps