Volunteer work clearing trails keeps 72-year-old young
To say 72-year-old Mel Skiles is amazingly fit might not do justice to the healthy and active lifestyle he's lived.
"I've been active all my life," said Skiles, who moves through a range of physical and aerobic activities from a daily three-and-a-half miles on the treadmill, to water aerobics and 60-minute water jog classes.
It's clear that staying fit is as important in keeping his mind healthy as it in keeping his body fit. But the retired radiologist has another avenue to maintaining his fitness: a volunteer job he seems to love most of all.
He volunteers for the Carolina Mountain Club, going out several times a week helping to clear trails for the thousands of people who bike, run, walk and enjoy the western North Carolina Woods.
He's also a certified sawyer, which means he's got essential training and expertise to safely use a chainsaw to clear huge fallen trees and any other large stumps that might fall into trails.
The retired radiologist said his volunteer work continues to be a rewarding way to spend time, because it gets him in the woods while also giving back.
The ability to spend solitary time with nature is also something Skiles loves.
"It's like I'm in there with nature, seeing the physical world," said Skiles. "And I'm not stressed out about daily activities, or what I need to do with my schedule."
"He's a great example of someone being physically active while also being socially engaged and connected to nature," said Rebecca Chaplin, Associate State Director of Community Outreach and Advocacy for AARP.
"Connecting to nature," Chaplin said, "is known to reduce blood pressure. But also volunteering is said to reduce the incidence of heart disease."
"Being a part of anything that gives them excitement, they're going to increase their serotonin, and increase their connectivity with the community," she said.
It's clear Stiles loves the work in the woods and the ability to both stay physically active, hike, and volunteer.
Hr retired from work as a radiologist in 2011, and immediately took on one of the biggest physical challenges of his life: hiking the 2181-mile Appalachian Trail.
"That in itself was a life-changing experience for me," said Stiles. "It was the hardest thing I ever did, but also the most wonderful thing I've done."
Stiles is not one to brag, and only agreed to do the interview with News 13 knowing the story was about promoting health and fitness and the benefits to those activities coupled with volunteer work.
Time in the woods, he said, is invaluable to where he is in life today: retired, and happy and close to family.
"My mind is free and I feel I don't have any aches or pains. Being 72 and not having aches and pains, I'm fortunate, and I feel gratitude for that."