Podcast: Health Benefits of Outdoor Recreation

Pete CodellaBusiness Elevated Podcast


Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 21)

This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Rose Smith, Office of Outdoor Recreation program manager, Rebecca Chavez-Houck, advisory board member of HECHO, and Kenny Jackson from Intermountain Healthcare.

The Business Elevated podcast is also available on Apple PodcastsSpotify and Stitcher.



Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck


Rose Smith (0:19): Hi everyone and welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast. My name is Rose Smith and I’m a program manager at the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation. I’m really excited to welcome my guests. Today we have Rebecca Chavez-Houck from HECHO and Kenny Jackson from Intermountain Healthcare. Could you both introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about what your organizations do?

Rebecca Chavez (0:42): Thank you, Rose. I really appreciate you inviting me to talk a bit about HECHO and the things that we’re doing. For those of you who are not familiar with HECHO, it stands for Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors. We’re a national organization, but we work primarily in the Southwest. Our purposes, through focus advocacy and strategic communications, is to protect healthy watersheds, clean air and robust wildlife habitats. so that current and future generations can enjoy and practice centuries old cultural traditions that depend on protected public lands. The way I like to synthesize that is we bring the Latino Hispanic perspective on conservation and exploring and enjoying our public lands for Latino families.

I serve on the national advisory board for HECHO. The national advisory board is made up primarily of grass tops individuals. So we are individuals that have either served in elected office or are influencers in our communities. Again, primarily mostly from the Southwest. So I serve with County commissioners, state legislators and other activists. We have centuries old traditions of being part of the outdoors. I mean that’s what brought us, our communities have thrived in outdoor communities, and so we wanted to make sure that that tradition continues and the Latinos feel that the outdoors is a place for them too.

Rose Smith (2:16): Awesome.

Kenny Jackson (2:17): I’m Kenny Jackson. I work with Intermountain Healthcare in the LiVe Well department and we are all about helping the community to live well. It’s as simple as our name, and that includes things like living active, healthy, on a budget, all those aspects. I specifically work with the LiVe Well department in an exercise capacity. My degree is in exercise and sports science and I work helping people to understand how they can live more active lifestyles, exercise better, exercise in a way that will prevent any future injury. Just using that to better their lives and to make it so that they don’t have health problems down the line. We work with a lot of elderly the community, especially here in the Salt Lake LiVe Well. We have a gym where we have classes ranging from the whole class being taught out of a chair all the way up to a more active group fitness style exercise class. But our most popular one is kind of right in the middle, where we do personalized exercise prescriptions based on what that person specifically needs.

Rose Smith (3:45): Well, thanks again for both of you joining us on the podcast. We wanted to bring you here today to talk about getting Utahns, especially youth and families outside and active. You’re both working in communities to really improve lives and quality of life. So we’re really excited to start this conversation. So our office launched the Utah Every Kid Outdoors initiative or EKO last year and it’s a special state based initiative whose goal is to inspire Utahns to recreate outside in such a beautiful state that we have. We launched the EKO passport where folks can download it just right off our website and check off these 10 awesome adventures and mail it back for a prize. We’re really excited about how it can help make Utahns healthy and happy through outdoor recreation. You are both big supporters of all this great stuff and you were both part of the Utah outdoor recreation summit this year.

Thanks again to both of you for being there and Intermountain Healthcare for being our presenting sponsor. It’s a really good conversation and gathering of community members. Kenny, being outside and participating in green exercise has a lot of benefits, especially for physical and mental health. I love how Intermountain Healthcare and the LiVe Well program really focus on that wellness and prevention, and not just seeing people after they’re sick. I wanted to ask you, why is being active especially outside so important for that prevention piece?

Kenny Jackson (5:21): Especially with children, it’s all about healthy habits being formed. So when we’re kids we form habits that we don’t even realize we’re forming. We become accustomed to certain movements that we don’t even consciously realize. When kids are outside, just being outdoors facilitates movement. It facilitates being more active than they would be if they weren’t outside. Just getting someone outside just automatically increases how much physical activity they’re getting and helps them realize that there is a lot of enjoyment that can be had from being outside. A lot of things you can do and see outside that you can’t otherwise do will help to form those habits that’ll be really good for them later on in life. And like you mentioned, there has been a lot of studies that even mental health can be helped and treated through outdoors.

There’s been studies that prove that kids learn better when they’re outdoors and they learn better when they’re active. Even if the kid is struggling with a particular topic in school and you take them on a hike and talk about that topic, they’re going to learn better while being outdoors and while walking, than they would if you just sit them down at the kitchen table and try to get them to understand that particular concept they’re struggling with. I feel like we’ll get to the point where schools have bike desks or treadmill desks as an option.

Rose Smith (7:04): That’s awesome. I would love a biking desk personally. So Rebecca, I also love HECHOs mission. Like you said, it’s really working to protect water, air and public land so that you can continue to enjoy and practice centuries old cultural traditions that depended on these open spaces. We have the new Utah children’s outdoor recreation and education grant, which we hope can be a really great resource for organizations like HECHO to fund youth programming. I wanted to ask what are some programs, events or resources that HECHO has available to the community?

Rebecca Chavez (7:43): HECHO is a relatively new organization nationally and locally and we have a very small presence. There are just a couple of us that are associated with the organization. We’re in the process of trying to build up capacity and encourage Latino Hispanic families to sign on and to learn more about the work that we’re doing. In the meantime, what we have found is it’s really great to start to develop some collaborations with other organizations that are doing great work in the community. Like Tracy Aviary, like the Nature Conservancy, like Latino Outdoors, like Outdoors Afro and some of these other organizations. For example, the Nature Conservancy last year and going into next year is going to be doing a Fiesta for nature with the Great Salt Lake reserve. Trying to find those opportunities where we can encourage Latino families to come with their kids and grandma and grandpa and everybody else because that’s the way we roll. We’re very multigenerational to explore their own backyards. 

I think sometimes our families feel that they have to go somewhere to be able to enjoy the outdoors.  We’re really trying to encourage them within their own backyards, within their own communities, their parks, the Jordan River Parkway and some of these community treasures that we have. There are ways of getting outdoors with their families. Collaborating with other existing organizations that are trying to educate and inform members of the community how they can best preserve, protect and enjoy our outdoor spaces. This is what we really like doing.

Rose Smith (9:21): Those partnerships are very important. Our office also really values those partnerships. I was wondering as a former legislator and as you continue to be a big community advocate, what inspired you to get involved with HECHO?

Rebecca Chavez (9:35): I noticed personally, that as my family and I work getting out and going camping and hiking and enjoying our local natural spaces, that I was seeing more and more Latino families coming out. Going camping, going hiking, bicycling, all of these different types of activities. I just wanted to make sure they understood and knew what resources were available to them. One thing that Kenny and I were talking about is seniors and getting them outdoors too. I  think within the Latino tradition there is such a strong element of multigenerational doing things together. In HECHO, we have a number of our members and associates who go hunting together there. They go fishing together, they go camping together and they always do it as a family, grandma, grandpa, tias and tios, uncles, aunts, moms and dads and the kids. They’re all going together to do these things.

I think that would help in terms of facilitating good family and population health within the Latino community. We have the challenge of having a high propensity of chronic illnesses related to diabetes, high blood pressure, some of these other concerns. I see some really great opportunities present with what we’re trying to do in terms of encouraging Latino families to enjoy the outdoors. We’ll have added benefits to help with some preventative medicine. Getting them outdoors and enjoying and engaging in more healthy activities as families.

Rose Smith (11:11): Awesome. So Kenny, I know on the health side, everybody loves the numbers. I wanted to say a scary stat that I’ve heard and we’ve shared a lot. Youth are spending more and more time on screens, and not only youth us as adults as well, but the average child spends 7.5 hours a day on a screen. I wanted to ask you, on the health side, what are some of the health and wellness benefits for youth and adults spending more time outside and active in nature, versus on a screen where we’re more sedentary and isolated perhaps?

Kenny Jackson (11:52): The statistics can be really frightening, but also remembering that statistics are often skewed in a way that is almost meant to make them sound scary. I don’t want to be against screens. Screens have helped us. Technology has helped us in so many ways.

Rose Smith (12:12): Totally.

Kenny Jackson (12:13): It’s not all bad. It’s true that at the same time screen time started to increase, so did the rates of obesity and diabetes within children. That used to be something that we didn’t think of being a disease that would affect children. Type two diabetes is now being diagnosed much earlier and the sedentary lifestyle is likely to blame in most of those cases. Things like we mentioned earlier, a treadmill desk at work is something that would keep those kids and adults more active, while still being able to do the work that is necessary for their job. This time of year we struggle with seeing a lot of seasonal depression in children and adults.  Getting them outside, getting them some sun can really help with that. Getting up higher elevations where the sun is more prevalent, and out of the inversion and fog that we often get here. If we can do that with hikes. Intermountain Health Hub has a healthy hikes app.

Rose Smith (13:33): That’s right. That’s a great resource.

Kenny Jackson (13:33): It’s a great resource to find hikes near you and walking trails. There’s even a place for handicap accessible trails.

Rose Smith (13:41): Oh, that’s great.

Kenny Jackson (13:42): Even if you’re not out there to get exercise, you can just get some sun and the necessary vitamin D you need to keep yourself happy and healthy.

Rose Smith (13:56): I also know studies show that being outside in nature or green space can really decrease your cortisol levels and stress levels. All those benefits are amazing. I wanted to talk about maybe those people who might be facing barriers to participating outside or even just getting started if it seems a little daunting. Rebecca, what are some tools people can use to inspire more youth and families to get outside and active in nature, especially in Utah or the Southwest?

Rebecca Chavez (14:24): I think again, starting from the family because that’s where people are most comfortable, and neighborhoods. We talk a lot about our public lands and those places that we know.State parks, national parks, which are wonderful places to explore, but I don’t want it to limit individuals or families. Encouraging folks to just explore their own neighborhoods or nearby parks. If there is time to spend with family, which sometimes is challenging because people are working two or three jobs. On the other hand, they could probably use that time outside with family. Maybe turning off the TV and deciding to go for a walk around the neighborhood with your kids. Those are the types of things that we’re really trying to encourage people to do. I really appreciate the efforts we’re able to undertake when we work towards preserving the land, water and conservation fund.

Because that type of fund, even though it’s federal funding, it comes to localities to help preserve parks, to maintain them, to make sure that those trails are there and accessible. To make sure playground equipment is safe so families can take their little kids outside. That bike trails are there that are safe. I really enjoy hearing how other organizations are opening doors towards communities that may face certain barriers. Kids who don’t have the money to have a bike, so the bike collective and other organizations like that help get equipment to communities that might be challenged. We really just encourage families to do things together outdoors. Take what they may be doing indoors, and take it outside.

Rose Smith (16:10): Starting together. I like that. Being outside together is a great thing. Taking your family and even going to your local park is nature. It doesn’t have to be the wilderness, it can be your backyard. You can find amazing things there, your local park, local green space, even a schoolyard. There are amazing resources nearby.I love to say, the Wasatch Cache is 20 miles from Salt Lake, and so it’s closer than we think. I love that. I heard, you really need to try and get kids out before they’re 12 to have a positive experience in nature. It really helps them form the identity that this is accessible to me, and they’ll most likely recreate as an adult. I had to ask, one of my favorite questions is on that note, what inspired you to love the outdoors? Did you have a great experience as a kid or even taking your own kids outside? Why do you like to get outside?

Rebecca Chavez (17:20): Well, for me, I grew up on a farm and so the outdoors was my playground. Collecting caterpillars on milkweed and tadpoles that were in the ditches that irrigated our fields. That was what I grew up with. As I got older I was involved in Girl Scouts, so that’s how I got excited about camping. We get ourselves away from everything else that’s stressing us out, enjoy the outdoors and connect with family members and friends. We would go camping with friends and couples that we enjoy their company.  It’s really a communal activity.

Kenny Jackson (18:07): Think about that question before the age of 12, and think about my family’s way of doing that. For me, I can think of quite a few things. Going beekeeping with my dad, he’s just a hobby beekeeper, we would take turns going out and working with him. He would teach us what he’s doing, checking on the hive, that kind of stuff. We would go Christmas tree hunting every year down near Capitol Reef and spend time there while hiking and trudging around in the snow. Just really fun. Makes a lot of good memories. That really set me up for later in life, wanting to do those kinds of things. I became a boy scout at 12 and did a ton of camping. I worked at a boy scout camp. I  spent entire summers outdoors in the mountains and loved every minute of it. That just sets me up for wanting the same things. When I need a day to relax, I do the same kind of things. I go outdoors. I get outside.

Rose Smith (19:16): Well thank you so much for taking the time to share your stories and how you’re helping make Utah and our communities more active and healthy. Where can people find more info about your organizations?

Rebecca Chavez (19:28): So the best way for people to reach out to us at HECHO is to follow us on our website. They can find us on our website, which is www.hechoonline.org and HECHO is H-E-C-H-O, the H is silent. They can follow us. They can learn what we’re doing in terms of action alerts. They can read some amazing blogs from some of our colleagues in the Latino community that enjoy the outdoors and nature.

Kenny Jackson (20:04): The Intermountain Health Hub app is a good place to start. That’s a great place where you can find resources that you need of all levels. Intermountain LiVe Well will get you to a lot of other areas that will help you with tips or tricks that you can integrate into your lifestyle. If you want more specific personalized situational help, you can schedule with either exercise physiologists or the Salt Lake clinic specifically has a nurse practitioner. You can schedule a lifestyle medicine consultation to find areas that you can improve in all aspects of your health.

Rose Smith (20:49): Awesome. Well, thanks again. And of course to find all things outdoor, what we’re up to at the Office of Outdoor Rec, visit business.utah.gov/outdoor. Thanks again.


Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.