Have you ever noticed how great you feel after a long nature walk? Although it might take a bit of convincing to get outside, the question you might ask is why do they make us feel so good? At times when we are feeling stressed, we are told to “walk it off” but why?
Not only do nature walks improve our heart and fitness levels, but it has measurable mental health benefits as well. A study found that taking group nature walks is associated with decreasing depression, improved well-being and mental health, and lower perceived stress. Walking is an inexpensive and low risk form of exercise, combining that with nature and group settings it can be a very powerful, under-utilized stress reliever.
With there being so many things competing for attention in our lives - an overwhelming school schedule, stressful day at work or even relationships - it can be easy to under-utilize nature and its various benefits.
Now that we've established different tips to help us get outside, let's strive to manage our stress levels, depression, our focus and keep a healthy weight.
“Shinrin-yoku” which means forest-bathing. One study in Japan found that participants were less stressed when they were in nature as opposed to an urban environment. Going for a 30-minute walk in a cedar forest lowers the level of cortisol, known as a stress hormone. Scents and smells also have a powerful effect on our mental health and emotions. The scents in a forest can arouse certain emotions and help reduce chronic stress.
A study focused on londoners living near trees were found to have better mental health. Even the presence of street trees seemed to have a positive effect and one study found that areas with more trees had lower rates of prescriptions for antidepressants. Being near trees let alone walking in a forest helps people cope with living in an urban setting. Walks in the forest were useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments for major depressive disorder.
Nature walks can be beneficial and help those with ADHD: they've been found to concentrate better after just 30 mins in the park. One study asked students to repeat a sequence of numbers by memory, the participants who spent 30 min walking through nature performed the task more accurately than those who hadn't.
Nearly 30% of the worlds population is now obese or overweight! There are many solutions but walking, cycling or doing any conservation work regularly in forested areas will help. This “natural health service” is a remedy for obesity. Studies have shown that looking at greenery causes a rapid reduction in blood pressure, muscle tension pulse rate- usually within minutes of exposure. By adding an extra 30 minutes of walking to your daily routine you could burn about 150 calories, and help lose belly fat.
What are you waiting for? Anne Frank once wrote “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy go outside…. I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” Take advantage of this inexpensive stress reliever. Enjoy the journey and improve your overall health!