Walking is known to have multiple health benefits. You could even go one better and venture into nature. Research has shown that being in the great outdoors reduces stress and the risk of multiple potential health problems.
Researchers at the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences found spending time in nature helps to lower stress boosts the immune system.
Consequently, going for walks in nature helps protect you from a wide range of debilitating diseases including depression, diabetes, obesity, ADHD, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many more.
The health benefits of nature remained a mystery for centuries, but scientists now realise we are hard-wired to connect with nature because we are an intrinsic part of it. Consequently, nature has an innate ability to enhance the functioning of the body’s immune system.
In short, nature helps the body switch to “rest and digest” mode. Experts think this could be the key to building up your immune system and maintaining good health.
Given the novel coronavirus is fatal for people with a weak immune system, there is a massive incentive to take more care of your health. The best way todo that is to switch off; unplug from the manic chaos of city life and escape into nature wherever you can find it.
Allow me to explain this in more depth.
A Walk Through The Immune System
Your immune system is an intricate structure of white blood cells, antibodies, complex proteins, networks, and organs. It plays an integral role in defending the body from bacteria, virus’ and diseases.
When foreign agents – like a virus – enter the body, the immune system is triggered and send out biological defenders to neutralise infected cells. The defenders are called antibodies. You may also hear them called immunoglobulins.
Or, to make it easier – immune goblins.
The immune goblins are proteins that lock on to alien invaders that should not be in the body. Your powerful antibodies help fight toxins, bacteria and virus’ in affected cells.
Once the immune goblins have been created they hang around and wait for the same disease to strike again. Essentially, the immune goblins stave away illness, or at the very least, lessen the impact of the infection.
However, the immune goblins are not able to destroy foreign agents by themselves. They need the help of your biological swat team known as cytotoxic T cells or simply “killer cells.”
It’s therefore important to nurture immune goblins and T cells. You can do this naturally by reducing stress, exercising outdoors, eating healthy foods, getting good quality sleep and cutting down on smoking and alcohol.
The UK’s Weak Immune System
A strong immune system will not prevent you from contracting COVID-19 but it will help your body to defend and survive the virus.
Because SARS-C0V-2 is a novel coronavirus, you will not have existing antibodies that are immediately able to mount a defence. It is, therefore, important to give your immune system good maintenance.
Experts know that a strong immune system can defend you against Covid-19. The 11.3 million survivors is testament to that.
However, the worrying statistic for inhabitants of the UK is that the mortality rate is 15.1% – the highest percentage in the world. This damning statistic underscores how the British population have the weakest immune systems.
Studies back this up. Britain has the third-highest obesity levels in the world and is classed as one of the unhealthiest nations on the planet. A lifestyle of fast food, beer and insufficient exercise is blamed.
Taking steps to change your lifestyle habits can help your body defend against diseases. It will also increase your chances of surviving Covid-19. It is inevitable that everybody will get it at some point.
A good place to start boosting your immune system is walking in nature. Moderate exercise alone helps to lower stress levels and reduce anxiety.
Walking has multiple benefits which contribute to improving your overall health and the body’s ability to defend against infections.
Here are more ways to boost your immune system.
How Do Nature Walks Boost Immunity?
A growing body of research reveals the environment can either increase or reduce stress levels. Whereas bustling cities increase stress, the effects of natural environments have been found to reduce psychological stress.
Our psychological state also impacts the type of neurochemicals the brain releases into the body. Therefore, the information absorbed from the environment through the five senses has an impact on your mood and energy levels.
Not only that, but the chemical messengers in the body also impact the endocrine system and immunity.
Over time, unpleasant environments, chaotic scenes and toxic experiences start to take their toll on the immune system. As a result, the body’s innate ability to activate antibodies and T-Cells is weakened.
Stressful life styles also elevate blood pressure, increases the risk of heart disease and contributes to other debilitating diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and depression.
Studies have found that humans automatically seek out natural environments – especially when we are stressed.
Researchers believe the reason for that is because we have an innate attachment to nature. Being in nature automatically helps to reduce anger, fear and stress.
Walking in the great outdoors, for example, is shown to make people feel emotionally better. In turn, this improves physical wellbeing because the neurochemcials triggered by healthy emotional states are better for the body.
Researchers in Europe and the Harvard School of Public Health found that spending more time in nature can reduce mortality rates, lower the risk of cancer and kidney failure.
In relation to Covid-19, the nationwide study found that being around nature reduces the risk of respiratory disease-related deaths by 35%.
The Magic of Natural Environments
Nobody knows exactly why nature helps humans to feel less stressed. Plausible explanations include physical activity, social interaction, exposure to sunlight and reduced pollution. All these factors boost health and wellbeing in various ways.
The logical reason is that parks, green spaces, gardens and the great outdoors offer peaceful environments. There is less information for the unconscious mind to take in and less for the brain to filter.
Although the unconscious is capable of processes around 11 million bits of information per second, busy environments can be overwhelming.
Essentially, the brain is a super computer, but like any type of computer it will tire when it’s overheated and eventually fail.
The stillness that we find in nature helps to quieten the mind also. Scenes of natural beauty are automatically absorbing and distract a busy mind from the general worries of life.
This is why people naturally gravitate towards lakes and green spaces when they feel stressed. Essentially nature restores.
In one the most intriguing studies, researchers investigated how nature impacts general wellbeing. The 2014 study found that nature walks help to significantly improve the mood of people that suffer from depression.
Moreover, spending in time in nature, or even viewing natural scenes, increases cognitive function and our ability to focus for longer periods.
Another study also found that people that live in leafy areas close to green spaces new more people from the neighbourhood.
Having a connection with people that live close by gives people a sense of belonging. Not having a sense of belonging is a factor that triggers depression and, therefore, has a negative impact on the immune system.
It makes sense that going out for regular walks close to your home helps you to be more sociable and make connections with your brethren.
Walking is a Screen Saver
Experts warn that spending too much time staring at a screen is not good for your health. Not only that but it has a negative impact on sleep patterns, academic performance and happiness.
Going home and watching TV contributes to obesity and depression. Blue UV-light that emanates from computer screens also upsets your circadian rhythm and disrupts sleep patterns.
Whilst technology has its uses, it has made us addicted to the internet, playing computer games and, subsequently, staying indoors.
As a consequence, people are suffering from what doctors are calling “nature deficit disorder.” Although NDD is not a recognised medial condition, experts warn that children and adults that ignore nature in favour of screen time are more likely to develop lower attentions spans, depression and behavioural problems.
Staying indoors will also have a negative impact on your immune system. The more the immune system is challenged the better it works. And staying indoors does not give the exercise it needs.
Healthy doses of nature help the body to build immunity. As a result, your immune system will be better equipped to defeat Covid-19.
A Japanese study undertaken in 2017 showed how the practice of forest bathing is good for immunity. Known as Shinrin-Yoku, forest bathing involves taking in the natural environment of the forest during a leisurely walk.
Although it sounds like some form of new-age woo-woo treatment, scientists have overwhelming evidence that shows walking in a forest creates neuropsychological networks that induce a calming effect.
It is thought that the phytochemicals emitted by trees help to increase the number of white blood cells. The increased number stays in the blood for up to 30 days.
White blood cells play a crucial role in the functioning of the immune system. It is the white blood cells that carry the immune goblins and T-Cell swat team to tackle harmful intruders.
Research around the health benefits of nature have spanned a remarkable 290 million participants. It is not a small body of research that cannot be corroborated.
Moreover, the studies have shown the benefits of green spaces for more than 100 health conditions. Pregnant women are encouraged to spend more time in green surroundings because it supports self-health and the health of the unborn child.
Walking in Nature with Children
Families with small pre-adolescent children sometimes struggle to lure kids into nature. However, if you make nature walks fun, educational and engaging, they can be a fascinating adventure for children.
You will find loads of great ideas and games you can play with children in our article “How to make nature walks entertaining for kids.”
Play is crucial for a child’s psychological and sociological development. But it also benefits people of all ages. Hunting for items on a list is educational for adults as well – and will help you burn more calories (a boon if you’re watching your weight).
The old adage ‘laughter is the best medicine’ does have a ring of truth to it. Studies show that playing games improve your overall health and general wellbeing for people of all ages.
Playing releases endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good chemical. Endorphins promote wellbeing and can even induce temporary pain relief. Improving brain function helps to keep your body in good health and wards off anxiety and depression.
Moreover, stimulating the mind helps to boost creativity. Being creative makes you more adaptive to the pressures of day-to-day challenges because it increases your ability to solve problems instead of stressing about them.
When you feel good, your mood and behaviours are more positive – towards yourself and others. Naturally, positive attitudes improve relationships and fosters compassion, trust and intimacy.
Moreover, a playful and healthy person is better equipped to mingle with strangers, make new friends and build business relationships.
So don’t stop at simply walking in nature, play games whilst you’re out and about!
Essentially, playing games on a nature walk helps to relieves stress. Not only does it make your time in the great outdoors more productive and enjoyable, but you’re also recharging your immune system.