There is no question about it, we spend significantly more time inside than outside. Trapped behind our desks, completely surrounded by screens, always caught up in business or personal matters. The results of a two-year long survey showed that Americans spend 93% of their time indoors. Europeans aren’t far behind, staying inside 90% of the time.
Spending so much time inside, breathing poor air, working under artificial lighting, can be truly detrimental to our health. In order to improve our health, both mentally and physically, we need to start stepping outside more and reconnect with nature. Walking in nature is a great way to detach ourselves from the modern world, at least for a while, and become immersed in complete serenity.
Going for a walk in a natural surrounding can be quite beneficial from several perspectives. You’re probably thinking: “Yeah, I’ll get some fresh air and do some exercise”. But in fact it’s much more than that. According to health researchers, spending time in a green environment can do wonders for both the mind and the body. Keep on reading to discover the multiple benefits of walking in nature.
Reduced Stress Level
Stress is defined by the World Health Organization as the health epidemic of the 21st century. And it’s quite true. Can you actually remember the last time you weren’t stressed about something? Whether it’s about work, money or personal relationships, your mind is constantly assaulted by worries. A walk in the middle nature can change that.
Enter Shinrin-yoku or, in other words, forest bathing. Researchers at Kyoto University studied the psychological effects of walking in the woods in comparison to walking in the city. The results showed that, during their walks in the forest, participants had considerably lower concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone, in their bodies. In other words, the subjects were feeling less stressed and more relaxed in a natural environment as opposed to an urban one.
Another study found that a simple office window with a forest view can help employees reduce stress level and perform better at their jobs.
Fight Depression and Anxiety
If you’re feeling depressed, going for regular walks in a green environment can help you overcome the difficult period you’re going through. According to scientists at University of Essex, a “green exercise” can lead to a significant mental health improvement. Participants who engaged in exercising in a park or forest manifested an improved self-esteem and overall better mood.
Another study, published in the Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning of London, found that the simple presence of trees on a street can have a positive impact on our mental health. According to the findings, in the neighborhoods with a higher density of trees there was a lower rate of prescriptions for antidepressants.
Scientists at Stanford University also confirmed the benefits of a nature walk. They discovered that going for a stroll in a natural area can help reduce negative thoughts and hence prevent depression.
Spending time far away from the hustle and bustle of the city life is what we need to refresh our minds. Walking in the wild, surrounded by peaceful and soothing sounds, without the danger of being distracted and constantly interrupted, can help us relax our mind. The result? A significant improvement in our problem solving skills and a significant increase in creativity.
According to researchers at the University of Kansas, spending a few days immersed in nature can have a direct positive influence on how our brain functions. The findings showed that, because we are no longer focused on certain elements of our life that sap our energy (TV, newspapers, social media), we can find resources to become creative and insightful. The scientists observed a 50% increase in creativity among those who spent a couple of days away from the urban settings and modern devices.
Improve Memory and Concentration
Spending time in a natural environment does more than lift your spirits. It is also a great way to sharpen your mind. And we have science to back this up. A study conducted by professors at the University of Michigan showed that taking a walk in a green area can actually help you improve your short-term memory. A different study concluded that going for a stroll in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.
If you’re trying to lose weight, walking can actually be a great workout. You don’t need to hit the gym or sign up for an intense workout program and stay cooped up inside. A simple exercise like walking, done on a regular basis, can be enough. To give you an idea, a 165-pound (75 kg) adult, walking 30 minutes at a 4 mph (6.4 km/h) speed will be able to burn 169 calories.
And where better to go for a walk than in the middle of nature? Some place away from the crowds, where there are no drivers honking their horns, no distracting billboards. Somewhere surrounded by green fields, trees or lovely forest paths. In such a natural surrounding walking won’t even feel like an exercise. It will be a pleasant and relaxing experience that will help you drop those excess pounds.
Lower Blood Pressure
One of the important benefits of walking in the woods is that it can keep your heart healthy by lowering your blood pressure. And again, this is not a supposition. It’s a fact proven by medial research.
Scientists at the Nippon Medical School of Tokyo invited participants to take a two-hour walk in a forest park and another two-hour walk in an urban area. The results concluded that walking in a forest environment lowered the blood pressure of the volunteers, by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nerve.
Stronger Immune System
Going for regular walks in a green area can help us in numerous other ways. For instance, it’s an activity that has the power to boost our immune system and hence aid us effectively combat various types of infections, colds and flus. The benefits are attributed to the exposure of phytoncides, natural chemicals produced by plants.
According to a study conducted by the same Nippon Medical School, the inhalation of these chemicals leads to an increase of natural killer cells in our bodies. The natural killer cells are fundamental to our immune system, since they are the ones responsible for the elimination of tumorous and virally infected cells.
Protect your Eyesight
Spending time outdoors can also be beneficial for our eyesight, particularly for children. Most American children spend up to 7 hours a day in front of a screen. This sedentary lifestyle can have several negative effects, including on their vision.
Research has shown that engaging in outdoor activities helps children optimize their eyesight and reduces the risk of developing myopia. Another study reached the same conclusion after one year of testing: spending time outdoors, this time during class recess, reduces the myopia onset and progression.
Tip: Keep Track of your Walks
One of the useful things you can do while spending time in nature is to keep track of your physical activity. You can easily do this with a pedometer app like our own ActivityTracker. This way you’ll easily see how many steps you’ve taken, how many calories you’ve burned, how much you’ve actually walked or the total time you spent active.
Using a pedometer app will help you see exactly how active you’ve been instead of under- or overestimating the numbers. It will allow you to set your own fitness goals and see in real time the progress made. It will motivate you to stay on the right track and keep on moving to reach and surpass your target. And, naturally, it will help you feel good about yourself and your accomplishments.