Nature & Waterfront

Walk a Mile in Your Shoes (or Flip Flops)

Many overlook the mental and physical benefits of walking in nature, but SweetBay puts a premium on this healing activity thanks to the community’s nature trails and parks.

Fitness guru Adam Bornstein has never been shy about his empathy for the regular guy: That person who’s trying to be healthy, but fails because there’s a backlog of contradictory fitness research, quick fixes and workout fads. Many feel frozen, stopped in their tracks. What to do?

For all those who can relate, allow the community trails at SweetBay to make a simple suggestion: just go for a walk.

But trails don’t make suggestions, right? People do. Except, if you live in a multi-use neighborhood like SweetBay, well, the trails are right there in front of you. You see them as you go about your life. They beckon you and, in fact, their presence alone is a subtle suggestion. That’s the value a built-in trail system can offer its residents: access, solitude, fitness and convenience.

Plus, walking isn’t the loser’s fitness fallback. According to Bornstein, “a 180-pound guy can burn about 285 calories just by taking a one-hour leisurely walk.” Sure you can burn more calories doing other activities, but here’s the larger point: Walking is about more than fitness. It offers mental and emotional recovery. Even more, walking in nature adds an entirely different layer of value to the equation.

In a study featured in the New York Times, research shows how walking in nature changes the brain. “Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.”

Now consider a natural environment like the one surrounding SweetBay in Panama City, Florida. Observe its features. Many of the trails are boardwalks. They wind through canopies of trees, draped with Spanish Moss. Alongside the green shoulders that run parallel to the paths are cooling ferns and wild vegetation with short, plump leaf cover. Other trails are paved, lined by tall, lean pine trees, leading to one of SweetBay’s many parks.

“It’s scenic and it’s nice to see our friendly neighbors at the parks or on the trails,” says Jaclyn Shetuni, a young mother whose family recently relocated to SweetBay. “Our favorite is taking a walk while enjoying the beautiful sunset.”

SweetBay’s community is built alongside more than five miles of bay front. For those fortunate enough to take a walk along the SweetBay trails near North Bay, it’s not uncommon to observe an osprey hunting the waters for fish or spot a semi-tropical butterfly fish thanks to the bay’s clear waters.

This aquatic preserve is one of the most highly diverse estuaries in America, with over 2,900 species. For those taking a walk in the evenings alongside this vast body of water, the horizon is enough to make you snap your head around and, for a moment, stop, unknowingly relax your shoulders and just stand and gaze. All sense of time is rendered a secondary issue at best.

The paths at SweetBay account for more than three miles of trails and boardwalks, with plans for the network to grow. Those who live in SweetBay are free to use the trail system to walk, bike or jog. Some residents even ride their golf carts along the trails to reach the bay access area to watch the sun set or go fishing before dark.

Many who live in SweetBay have come to understand there is no substitute for quality of life. That’s why they’re there. And while it’s true (and reassuring) that a long walk in nature is there for anyone who seeks it, at SweetBay you really don’t have to seek it. Walking in nature is just part of the lifestyle, a way of doing things that’s baked into how a neighborhood chooses to live and use its space.