Current headlines

Healing With Nature: Outdoor walks help Naperville woman lose 100 pounds

A woman in a blue jacket stands in a forest preserve with water in the background.
Julie Jacobson embarked on outdoor adventures to get healthy. (Photo by Glenn P. Knoblcok)

This story is the first in a Healing With Nature series that will focus on Forest Preserve visitors who incorporate nature on their path to better physical and mental health.

Julie Jacobsen’s journey to lose 100 pounds drew her to nature.

In 2022 the 54-year-old Naperville woman weighed 245 pounds due to inactivity and a medical condition. 

“I found myself in a very unhealthy state,” she said. “I had ended my 12-year marriage three years earlier. I had moved out of the city after 20 years and had to start my life over in the suburbs.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, further isolating Jacobsen, which only worsened her health issues. 

“At 245 pounds, I was in the worst shape of my life,” she said. 

In February 2022, Jacobsen sought help from a doctor, who prescribed 30-minute walks four times a week in addition to a diet plan and supplements that help with a genetic condition she suffers from. On some of the many walks she took with new friends and her dog in her neighborhood and at local forest preserves, the beauty she saw around her kept Jacobsen going and inspired her.

“It took my breath away seeing the eagles, coyotes and deer,” she said during a recent interview at Whalon Lake.

As the months passed and the walking continued, the weight loss plan worked.

“Celebrating my 53rd birthday in March in the best shape of my life since my mid-20s was a blast,” she said.

70-mile challenge

Jacobsen recently finished hiking 70 miles in the bitterly cold and snowy early weeks of January to raise money for The Nature Conservancy. Much of her quest took place at Whalon Lake. She also walked at Hammel Woods in Shorewood, Lake Renwick Preserve in Plainfield and Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet.

She said she joined the 70-mile challenge to stay motivated in the dark weather of January and she found the walks “invigorating” after she bought the appropriate cold-weather gear. 

“Incorporating the fresh air, the wildlife, the trees, the waterways, the prairies, the sounds and smells is very motivating,” she said. “Additionally, I committed to planking every day of January for Stop Soldier Suicide, and I have even done a few planks outdoors in the snow at Lake Renwick.”

Her neighborhood walks during the week with friends started Jacobsen on her quest for better health.

“But getting to our natural preserves on the weekends for longer, indulgent hikes and walks really drove my success and renewed my passion for the outdoors,” she said. “I have always found inspiration in nature, in wildlife, in the trees, in the vistas, in the rocks, the waterways, the changing skies and clouds, the seasons. The outdoors calms me, centers me, grounds me, invigorates me and inspires me.”

She now walks around 50 miles per month. Jacobsen also started kayaking and taking yoga classes, which have helped her stay toned even with the big weight loss. Overall, the outdoor exercise has allowed her to experience the “highs” she hasn’t felt in a long time because her medical condition prevents her body from producing dopamine and serotonin. 

“Through yoga, meditation and nature – I reach new levels of happiness,” she said. “I find myself to be much more energetic, my immune system is healthier with consistency. My joints are much more supple, and I experience reduced pain with walking regularly.

"Over the past two years, I truly find myself much more in balance due to the time I spend outside in nature," she added. "I am stronger, healthier, happier and more fulfilled than I have been as an adult."

This story is the first in a Healing With Nature series that will focus on Forest Preserve visitors who incorporate nature on their path to better physical and mental health. If you have a story to tell, contact public information officer Cindy Wojdyla Cain at [email protected]