Fresh markets, sunshine, water everywhere, bike trails, award-winning beaches, parks and museums — the Tampa Bay area offers an abundance of healthy choices for mind, body and spirit. • The mental and spiritual renewal you can find in a quiet stroll through an art exhibit or a contemplative hour on a beachside bench are just as important to your health as the many exercise options the bay area offers. • With the coldest weather most likely past us and the sultry days far ahead, now is the best time to get out and make the most of it. • Here are some healthy choices to help you get started:
We live in an inspiringly beautiful place. If jogging, cycling, kayaking, standup paddleboarding or kite-surfing aren't your style, how about a long, slow, quiet walk?
Beautiful surroundings invite you to connect with your spiritual side. Prayer, meditation, reading, listening to music, keeping a gratitude journal or simply sitting quietly, alone with your thoughts, all take on new dimensions when you're in a beautiful outdoor setting.
If you always listen to music while working out, try a silent workout and see where your thoughts take you.
Here are some popular spots:
Clearwater Beach: USA Today's "Best Beach Town in Florida" 2013 and Dr. Beach's "Best Beach on the Gulf of Mexico" 1999.
Fort De Soto Park: Parents magazine's "Best Beach for Families" 2011.
Caladesi Island: Dr. Beach's "Top Beach in America" 2008.
The Pinellas Trail: More than 38 miles of protected green space for biking, jogging and walking, from downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.
And some quieter spots
Southernmost beach bench at Caladesi State Park: Walk north on Clearwater Beach for about 2 miles to Caladesi State Park. It's well worth every single step to sit in solitude on one of the best beachside benches anywhere. Look out to sea. Listen to the waves. Say a prayer. Plan to stay for a while, because you won't want to leave.
Ninth Street, Belleair Beach: Head west across the Belleair Causeway. Turn left onto Gulf Boulevard, left again on Ninth Street, and left again on Harbor Drive. Park between the tennis courts and playground and walk across the little wooden bridge to the bay. A quiet little white sand beach and sandbar greet you there. Bring your fishing pole, kayak or paddleboard, or just sit and watch the egrets, herons and the occasional dolphin or manatee. It's a magical spot. You'll feel better the minute your feet hit the sand.
A recent Psychology Today article explored the growing arts in health care movement that "recognizes the arts, creativity, and imagination as agents of wellness and their consistent and central presence throughout history as healing practices."
I especially like the local art walks offered around the area that give you a chance to peek into galleries and artist studies. My favorite is the Second Saturday Art Walk, which last time I checked had 30 participating art venues all over St. Petersburg. Try it out. It's good exercise, you'll meet new people and refresh your thought with some inspiring art.
Even when the weather isn't inviting, the art certainly is at indoor venues including St. Petersburg's Chihuly Collection, the Dalí Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. The Tampa Museum of Art, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, also in downtown Tampa, and the Contemporary Art Museum at USF's main campus are well worth your contemplative time, too.
Eat healthy, eat local
There are at least a dozen fresh markets in the area that not only offer locally grown produce, fresh baked goods and food trucks, but also entertainment, crafts and art. And you can find one just about any day of the week. Definitely take advantage soon, because many only are open through spring.
Clearwater's is Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through May 15; Dunedin's is Fridays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., through April 26; Gulfport's is Tuesdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Hyde Park's is the first Sunday of the month, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Largo Community Center's is Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Palm Harbor's is Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Passe-a-Grille's is Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; St. Pete Beach's (Corey Avenue) is Sundays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Franklin Street in downtown Tampa hosts a market on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tarpon Springs Community Center also is Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
And the largest local market, St. Petersburg's, is Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the waterfront just off First Avenue S.
Being and staying healthy means making good choices. The bay area is blessed with an abundance of options that are good for your mind, body and spirit. So plan to get out, get inspired, refresh your spirit, eat good, local fresh food, immerse yourself in art, and enjoy the natural beauty all around you. You'll be healthier for it.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at flcompub.org/blog.