The Health Benefits of Walking in Nature
Have you ever had a day where you just feel a bit off? A bit down, unmotivated, lacking life? And then when you finally step out into the day you suddenly feel lifted and wish you did it sooner?
The outside world can work wonders on both our physical and mental health and there's good reason why.
There is mounting evidence for the benefits of walking and getting out in nature for our well being, and as our world speeds up, our connection to nature has never been more essential to helping us slow down. Natural settings have been shown to aid stress recovery, a 2013 study found that participants who viewed pictures of nature had a higher activity in the part of the brain that balance us and encourages rest, than those who looked at images of built up environments.
So many of us know about the positive impact of cardio on our mental health. Aerobic exercise encourages brain growth, heightens our ability to concentrate and be creative with our ideas, lifts our mood and helps reduce levels of anxiety, stress and depression.
But it's not just a fast paced run that can do all this. "Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed, and staying active helps those who are depressed recover."
Walking regularly allows us to take time to slow - removing ourselves from the fast paced city or the screen of our laptops gives us opportunity to reflect, and adjust our perspectives once again. It's easy to be consumed by the demands of everyday life when you're living in a fast-paced environment every day, but pausing to walk amongst nature reminds of our humanity, reminds us how beautiful we and all things around us are, if we just take some time to pause and look around.
And there's more science behind this than just walking off the cobwebs. It seems we're programmed to respond positively to nature. The University of Exeter Medical School found that "people living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment (all of which are also correlated with health)." And a 2009 Dutch Study "found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space."
Researcher Yannick Joye, PhD, believes that the effects on our brain “seems to be related to the visual structure of nature, which seems to be relaxing for our minds. The mechanisms behind this are not yet clear, although my speculation is that nature contains a lot of repetitive structure, which is ‘easy' on our minds,”. There's even evidence showing that the colour green makes us feel more creative, so it's not surprising when we feel inspired and optimistic when out walking in nature.
So while walking is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness, it's not just about stilling the mind or having some time out that will bring you the benefits. There's never been more compelling evidence to make that half an hour for a stroll around the nearest park or leafy street on your lunch break.