Starting next week, Trans Canada Trail’s annual winter wellness Blahs to Ahhhs campaign invites all Canadians to tap into the feel-good mental, physical and emotional health benefits that come from spending time outdoors. As we continue to experience a looming recession, our holiday bills start piling up, and the war continues with dire consequences around the world, an effective way to stop doom scrolling is to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. Blue Monday, deemed the most depressing day of the year, is on January 16. This year, Blue Monday coincides with the launch of Trans Canada Trail’s annual winter wellness campaign, Blahs to Ahhhs. We chatted with Eleanor McMahon, president and CEO of Trans Canada Trail, about the campaign, how to get active on the trail (snowshoeing, winter cycling, cross-country skiing, etc.), why nature and physical activity are important for mental, social and physical heath, and more. —Noa Nichol
Hi Eleanor! What is the upcoming Blahs to Ahhhs campaign about?
Blahs to Ahhhs is our annual winter wellness campaign that invites people to get outdoors to beat the winter blues along the world’s longest trail network. It launches on Blue Monday, January 16—sometimes referred to as the saddest of the year—and runs until the beginning of spring. The idea for Blahs to Ahhhs was born in January 2021 at the peak of the pandemic, to support the physical and mental well-being of Canadians. Being outdoors and using trails was a safe way for Canadians to gather in a physically distanced, socially together way. Among Canadians who use trails, 95% told us they do so to boost their mental and physical health. This time of year, with the busy holiday season behind us, shorter days and colder nights, we may feel increased stress or seasonal gloom. Add to that economic anxieties of a looming recession, rising food costs and growing geopolitical uncertainty in our news feeds, and it can feel a bit heavy. Getting outdoors on the Trans Canada Trail can be the antidote we need for turning those winter blahs into to ahhhs, and so this year’s call to action, “Let’s stop scrolling and get strolling!” is very timely.
Why or how does outdoor activity help to “beat” the winter blues, or keep them at bay?
The health benefits of time in nature are proven. Exercise gets your blood pumping, leaving you feeling happier, more relaxed and less anxious. There’s no better place to get exercise outdoors than the Trans Canada Trail. Our national trail makes it easy to connect with nature and one another. I often meet with friends for a walk along the Waterfront Trail here in Burlington and when I travel I look for opportunities to meet colleagues and partners on the Trail—it’s a great way to see a community at human scale. According to a recent study, people are using trails more and more to relieve social isolation and to see friends and neighbours. It’s encouraging to see the Trans Canada Trail become a place for people to gather. The new town square is the trail that runs right through your neighbourhood.
What unique winter activities does the Trans Canada Trail offer Canadians?
There’s a lot you can do in winter on the Trail: hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, fat biking and even horseback riding in some parts of the country! Our research tells us that people are keen to use trails in the winter—69 per cent of Canadians intend to use trails in the winter months. Trails are a low-barrier, no-cost way to get exercise and spend time with nature and one another—plus the Trans Canada Trail is accessible to nearly everyone: 80 per cent of Canadians live within 30 minutes of it. People can explore our map to find their local section.
What’s your favourite thing to do outside in winter?
There’s a saying that goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing! So I make sure to dress warmly and get outdoors daily. Even a quick walk during the workday has such restorative effect for me. I love to get out with my dog Finn for longer walks—having a dog can be a great way to get outdoors—and I enjoy snowshoeing as well.