Scientific studies into the health benefits of walking in nature are gathering pace. And with a whole year in lockdown, exercise is becoming critically important for physical and mental health.
With cities and schools closed down, there are few alternatives for you and the family to get the exercise you need to stay fit and healthy. Walking in nature is a morale booster and should be our daily activity.
“Encouraging walking is about making an environment walkable and liveable, with pedestrianised areas, lower volumes of traffic and more open space.”
Let’s look into what other health experts say about the benefits of walking in nature and how it affects our health.
Walking In Nature Affects Mental Health
“Nature can have a powerful effect on our mental state,” says Dr Jason Strauss, “and there are many ways to tap into it.”
Simple advice: if a sour mood is ever getting you down – get back to nature.
This research suggests that mood disorders can be lifted by spending more time outdoors and taking a walk in the woods. It’s a simple way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
The study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.
“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanising world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
“Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more liveable and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them.”
People Have A Deeper Connection With Nature
Ecotherapy rests on the idea that people have a deeper connection to their environment. Research shows that time spent in nature reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
A 2015 study compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one.
It found that when people engage in nature walks, there is less activity in the prefrontal cortex – a brain region that is associated with rumination.
A habit of rumination can have negative effects on mental health, prolong or intensify depression, or impair your ability to process emotions.
“When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts,” says Dr Strauss.
Other Nature’s Therapeutic Benefits
Interacting with nature offers other therapeutic benefits. Calming nature sounds and outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, thus calming down the body’s fight-or-flight response.
The visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect, according to Dr Strauss.
“Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.”
How Much Time Spent Walking In Nature Is Enough?
In the report run by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support, the UK Chief Medical Officers said that a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (e.g. walking) could prevent 37,000 deaths every year.
Walking in nature also cuts the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes by 20% to 50%.
“Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful,” says Dr Strauss. “The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle.”
Carly Wood, lecturer in Nutrition and Exercise Science at the University of Westminster, in her article Student mental health: 10 minutes a day in nature could reduce stress and anxiety – expert explains, says:
“Based on this review, and the growing body of research that supports the mental health benefits of nature exposure and green exercise, both students and the general population should try to spend time in nature as part of their daily lives as a way of combating stress and improving mental health.”
What Type Of Nature Setting Improves Health?
“Nature and Health” study by Terry Hartig, Richard Mitchell, Sjerp de Vries, and Howard Frumkin researched the impact of contact with nature on individual and population health.
The goal is to get away from stimulating urban settings and surround yourself with a natural environment. The type of natural setting should be the one most pleasing to you.
Group Nature Walks
A 2014 study found that group nature walks were just as effective as solo treks in terms of lowering depression and stress and improving overall mental outlook.
Walking In Nature Increases Energy
The study started with a simple question:
“If a person has 15 minutes to spare and wants to feel more positive and more energetic, what should the person do?”
They expected walking outdoors would be the best course of action and resting indoors would be the worst course of action. Their findings suggested a more nuanced answer.
“If a person prefers to take a short walk, it probably does not matter whether he or she does it indoors (in the presence of simulated nature) or outdoors (in the presence of actual nature). If a person prefers to rest, he or she should probably do it outdoors.”
More generally, the results of this study suggest there are clear benefits associated with physical activity and being outdoors. This study also shows that there are clear disadvantages to remaining indoors and being sedentary.
Strategies to increase physical activity among those who must remain indoors (e.g., treadmill desks) and to create opportunities for taking breaks outdoors (e.g., through footpaths or secluded benches) may go a long way toward improving mental and physical well-being.
We have been staying indoors, working from home, and studying from home lately, but it’s high time we get up from the sofa and embrace nature. Experts confirm that walking in nature has many benefits that have a positive impact on your mental and physical health.
Sweatcoin wants to use technology for good and exists to reward people for walking. With our app, you covert steps into digital tokens which can be used to purchase merchandise with over 400 retailers.
If you have young children and struggle to encourage them to go for nature walks, why not make the great outdoors a fun adventure. Here are some ideas about how to entertain kids on nature walks.