“For every walk in nature, one receives more than he seeks.”—John Muir
Whatever the weather, walking in nature is not only good for your heart and fitness levels, but according to numerous studies it has measurable mental benefits and it may also reduce the risk of depression. Let’s take a look at how a simple walk in nature may yield many more additional benefits.
Walking in nature:
1. Strengthens the immune system and muscles
It’s not only our minds that benefit from time in the woods/forest/parks but also our bodies.
There is widespread evidence that chemicals emitted by plants, known as phytoncides (wood essential oils), help strengthen the immune systems of humans who are exposed to them.
Plants emit phytoncides to protect themselves from insects and rotting. A study from the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found when humans breathe in these chemicals it increases the number of ‘natural kill cells’, a type of white blood cell, in our bodies.
Natural kill cells are vital to our immune system as they hunt and kill tumours or infected cells. Hence, walking in nature could end up saving your life.
2. Keeps the body trim
Walking or hiking are some of the healthiest activities around. A simple 60-minute hike can burn up to 500 calories. These exercises are also easier on our body than running, which puts a lot of pressure on our joints. (a)
3. Increases creativity
A study from researchers at the University of Kansas and University of Utah revealed spending time in the great outdoors, and away from all of the technological distractions, makes us more intuitive and creative.
The researchers sent 56 participants on hiking excursions ranging from 4 to 6 days in the wildernesses. During this time, the participants were not allowed to use any electronic devices.
Ultimately, the researchers found the participants showed:
(a) A 50% increase in creativity, and
(b) Overall attention and problem-solving abilities increased after several days in the wilderness away from technology. Whether or not this was a direct consequence of exposure to nature or less technology requires further research to determine.
But this still suggests natural environments stimulate the brain in ways civilisation cannot, improving our cognitive abilities and igniting our imaginations.
Correspondingly, it comes as no surprise that many of history’s greatest pieces of art, literature and music were produced by those who truly appreciated nature and spent much of their time in it. (b)
4. Reduces blood pressure
A little known health benefit of walking in nature versus walking in a city is it can help to keep your blood pressure down. This has been overwhelmingly proven in tests worldwide.
5. Improves brain function
Walking through a forest/wood/or greenland area has been found to aid memory and learning. It also improves short-term memory.
6. Improves concentration
A study conducted on children with ADHD showed a marked improvement in concentration after just 20 minutes in a natural environment.
Another study asked students to repeat a sequence of numbers by memory. The participants who had spent 20 minutes walking in nature performed the task much more accurately than those who had not.
7. Increases positivity
In a study conducted by David Suzuki, science broadcaster and environmental activist, it was found that participants who spent 30 minutes every day surrounded by nature exhibited increased personal wellbeing and happiness.
For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green.—J. R. R. Tolkien
I decided to do a quick search myself online re: the colour ‘green’ which is so prevalent in woodlands/forests/and parks. Here are some of the interesting facts I gleaned:
- Many people unknowingly make a connection between ‘wellness’ and the colour green and this is why pharmaceutical companies tend to use the colour ‘green’ on their product packaging.
- Suicides dropped by 34% when London’s Blackfriar Bridge was painted green.
- Green is a colour that helps relieve anxiety, depression, and nervousness.
- There are over 1,000,000 variable shades of green (although most are not visibly distinguishable to the human eye). The human eye can distinguish between 6,000 various shades of green.
- Different shades of green have different effects on mood, e.g. bright, zesty and vibrant greens make us feel energized; whereas dark or deep olive tones are more relaxing and soothing.
Mmm! Seems to me the colour green is perhaps a very important contributing factor re: the many of the benefits of being in the midst of nature. What do you think? I’d be interested to hear.
(a) (b) The Health Benefits of Walking in Nature by Ian Banyard
NEXT WEEK: Music can help you lose weight!
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