The benefits of walking in nature seem to be endless. Every year researchers are finding more evidence that nature and walking have significant improvements on your mental and physical health.
With the growing amount of evidence available, the smart move is to engage in nature walks more often. To start with, natural sunlight helps to keep your circadian rhythm in check and fresh air in your lungs helps your body’s natural defence systems fight viruses, bacteria and fungi.
If you and your family is spending too much time in front of a computer screen, the TV, playing computer games, or endlessly scrolling through social media platforms on your tablet or smartphone, it’s time to ditch the screens and get more greens.
Urban lifestyles overload the brain and body. The amount of information the five senses absorb from external stimuli is overwhelming the central nervous system.
Natural environments, on the other hand, have restorative properties and boosts your energy levels.
In this article, we are going to examine a number of scientific and psychological research studies that underscore the importance of walking in nature.
But before we begin, it’s also worth pointing out another significant benefit of nature walks; they’re free.
Walking in nature gives you all these health benefits for nothing!
1. Walking in Nature Boosts Your Mood
Researchers have shown there is a strong correlation between spending time in nature and positive moods. One study showed that the natural environment can trigger Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid or GABA – a soothing chemical in the brain that reduces stress and boosts mood and wellbeing.
Another study published in Nature showed that spending two hours in natural environments helps to reduce negative emotions and generally high levels of stress.
Various other studies have shown similar results. Spending time in nature consistently improves how we feel and lowers psychosomatic illnesses like irritability, insomnia, tension headaches, and indigestion.
2. Nature Strengthens Your Immune System
Regular walks in nature have been shown to reduce the risk of developing a variety of illnesses including type two diabetes, asthma, heart disease and some cancers.
Scientists are not sure exactly why spending time in nature is so beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing, but they are convinced nature somehow helps to trigger the body’s “rest and digest” mode.
Some researchers think that inhaling the phytoncides produced by plants helps to increase our levels of white blood cells which play a central role in helping the immune system to fight off infections and diseases.
Breathing in the fresh air also plays a key role in making white blood cells. In a previous article, we documented how brisk walking helps you breathe better. The same is true for nature walks if you focus on taking deep breaths as you walk.
Some nature walks can be tiring so naturally make you breathe deeper than you ordinarily would. The importance of breathing deeply has largely been ignored in modern times but writers like James Nestor and practitioners such as Wim Hoff are raising awareness about the health benefits various breathing exercises offer.
In addition, exercise helps to lower the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the bad cholesterol) from blood cells and increase levels of its high-density alternative (HDL, the good cholesterol). This keeps your blood pressure in check and reduces the risk of heart disease.
3. Walking in Nature Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Research published by mind.org reveals that walking in nature eases mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and SAD – seasonal affective disorder.
Other studies have shown that being in nature, or simply observing scenes of the natural world can trigger positive emotions and contribute to your overall wellbeing.
Researchers have shown that spending time in nature reduces stress hormones which help to lower your blood pressures, heart rate and ease muscle tension.
Although scientists don’t really understand why natural environments have such positive effects on us, it seems we are genetically programmed to fall into sync with the rhythm of trees, plants, water, and other natural elements.
As a matter of fact, new scientific inquiry suggests the resonance of the planet helps to balance our biological pathways. In short, nature intends for us to vibrate in sync with Mother Earth.
4. Nature Inspires Creative Thinking
When you’re next in the great outdoors, take a moment to reflect on the power of the planet. The contrast between the soothing qualities of nature and the dangers the natural environments present is quite astonishing.
Look around you and you recognise you are merely a dot on the landscape. The immense world around you expands to unimaginable proportions. Yet scientists also show we are intricately connected with the Universe through the electromagnet field.
There is no direct connection to the “we are one” theory and creative thinking but one study did find that spending time in nature is inspiring and prompts “expansive thinking” which can lead to innovative ideas.
One study found that backpackers scored 50 per cent better on a creativity test after spending four days in nature disconnected from electronic devices.
Psychologists suspect that when you open yourself to new experiences it prompts new ideas which share a relation to creative thinking and output. Natural environments promote awe, wonder and a connection to our natural instincts.
Even short walks of 5 to 16 minutes have been shown to help revitalise cognitive function and provoke inspiration. So it’s not only being in nature that promotes creative thinking, it’s removing yourself from a situation where your sense is overstimulated.
Whilst being around trees, water, bird song, flowers and other elements of the natural world has been shown to stimulate the brain, the minimal increments are no match for spending time in nature.
5. Nature Walks Are Fun and Educational For Kids
Medical practitioners are concerned that technology is having a negative effect on the mental health and physical wellbeing of children.
An increase in screen time and social media use in children aged 8-18 is having a negative effect on the psychological development of younger generations.
“In terms of the relationship between screen use and physical and mental health outcomes, there have been several studies that suggest higher levels of screen use in children and adolescents is associated with reduced physical activity, increased risk of depression, and lower wellbeing.” ~ mental health.org.uk
Spending too much time on computers and smartphones is also having a negative impact on the ability of teenagers to develop social skills. Internet addiction is real and has been linked to depression, low self-esteem and loneliness.
It’s clear that parents need to encourage their children to break away from the screen and experience life in the great outdoors. But running through meadows just doesn’t have the same appeal as a stint on Super Smash Bros.
To encourage your kids to go outside, create engaging nature walks that are fun and educational. We listed a ton of great ideas in this article.
The Australian parenting website raisingchildren.net.au also notes that parents need to encourage children to use their five senses and focus their attention on their surroundings. They recommend:
- Creating exercises that involve seeing – hunting games that involve finding specific plants, trees, insects or seeds etc.
- Take the time to stop and take in the aroma and scents of forest flowers, berries and grass.
- Be still and listen to the sound of birds, flowing water and the whistling of the wind through the branches.
- Touch the barks of trees and bushes etc to get a feel for the different sensations nature offers
- Pick wild berries and mushrooms, and if they are safe, prepare a mean with naturally grown, organic delights.
6. Improves Your Observational Skills
Exploring nature can also help you refine your own observational skills as well as your own. If you pay attention to your natural surroundings, even taking time to be still and listen, will draw your attention to rare plants and animals.
Studies have also shown that being outdoors can help to protect your eyes against myopia – a common condition that affects vision and makes things appear blurry. It is thought that increasing cases of myopia is a side-effect of spending too much time in front of screens.
7. Walking Adds Years To Your Life
Last year, CNBC published an article that reported the findings of researchers investigating the secrets to a longer, happier and healthier life.
As you might expect there were some common associations such as a plant-based diet and moderate exercise. But the one constant was gardening. The researchers concluded that exercise in nature helps to add years to your life.
The 2020 findings support previous studies that have linked moderate exercise with a prolonged lifespan. One study found that brisk walking for at least 20-25-minutes a day will help you squeeze an extra seven years out of your body.
Doctors throughout the UK are now even prescribing nature walks to patients with high blood pressure and anxiety. Medical practitioners believe ‘Nature Prescriptions’ promote a number of benefits for physical and mental well-being.
8. Nature Improves Cognitive Function
Interacting with the natural environment has been found to improve executive function when performing cognitive tasks.
In particular, spending time in nature has been shown to have a positive impact on our ability to maintain focus.
Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s ‘Attention Restoration Theory’ showed that natural environments replenish the body’s biological resources whilst crowded urban environments drain your energy.
Researchers have also noted that natural environments delivered better results than artificial nature and green spaces in cities. The conclusion was that noise and air pollution, advertising billboards, population density, busy traffic and other elements of urban environments overload cognitive function.
9. Walking in Nature Helps You Lose Weight
It’s no secret that burns more calories than you eat every day helps you lose weight. Moderate exercise has been found to help manage obesity and maintain a healthy weight, but walking in nature takes you one step further.
Walking in nature on a regular basis helps to regulate hunger pangs and improves your metabolism. This means your body will naturally burn calories at a faster rate.
It has also been suggested that grilling outdoors is a healthier way to because it drains excess fat from meat and other foods.
10. Helps You Sleep Better
There’s a significant difference between sleeping better and sleeping longer. A new study in the journal Sleep Health shows that people with active lifestyles sleep more deeply and feel more refreshed in the morning.
The study invited healthy adults that slept around 7-hours a night to carry pedometers so researchers could record the number of steps they take each day.
The results showed the participants that clocked up more steps slept significantly better than participants that walked less. However, the most interesting aspect of the study was that walking further improved the quality of sleep and not the duration.
Being exposed to natural sunlight stimulates the body’s circadian rhythm which promotes healthy sleeping patterns. Conversely, blue light from HD screens can have a negative impact on your quality of sleep; another good reason to escape the screens and embrace the greens.
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The benefits of walking in nature should be all the motivation you need for you and your family to head to the hills and indulge in ‘forest bathing.’ To give you even more reasons, why not download the Sweatcoin app and take advantage of 100’s of discounts offered by our partners.
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So why download the sweatcoin app now, immerse yourself in nature, get some valuable exercise and improve your mental and physical wellbeing.