John Muir, the great Scottish-American naturalist, once said “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”. From mental clarity to physical well being, the benefits we receive from being immersed in nature are never ending. There are even studies suggesting that simply living close to green areas can increase your lifespan. Let’s look at the ways a walk in the woods can make you a healthier, happier person.
Improved Mental Health
You’ve no doubt heard that exercise can be a great way to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, but where you choose to exercise can make a difference too. Walking, running, and biking outdoors is a great way to elevate mood and energy. This is thanks to both the chemicals released in your brain when engaging in cardio activities, as well as the chemicals released by plants that you breathe in while spending time outdoors.
Endorphins, serotonin and dopamine are the neurotransmitters responsible for that feel good energy you get during and after exercise. (They don’t call it “runner’s high” for nothing.) And the best part is you can achieve these mood boosting effects with as little as a 30 minute walk. Add to that the Vitamin D we receive from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and phytoncides given off by plants and you’re looking at the additional benefits you won’t get while exercising indoors. Walking in the park isn’t necessarily a replacement for your current medication, but it can certainly be a beneficial addition to it.
That walk can do more than boost your mood too. Cardio exercise has been proven to reduce blood pressure and stress hormone, improve sleep and restfulness, and boost your immune system. It seems simplistic, but because being in nature is often a peaceful and relaxing experience, stress hormones in our bodies often decrease just by being outside. When cortisol levels are lowered so too does our blood pressure and stress.
Remember those phytoncides mentioned earlier? While plants release them to protect against insects and disease, our bodies use them similarly to help fight infections and increase our immune systems response. The rise in white blood cells can help our bodies heal from injuries as well as protect against diseases. There are even studies being conducted to measure their effect on certain types of tumors and cancer cells.
Boost Creativity and Attention
Health aside, time spent in the forest or even just your local park, can positively impact your creativity and help to improve focus. The outdoors are a great place to engage your senses, opening your eyes to new environments and allowing you to have new experiences. It can expose you to new wildlife, plants, insects, scenery and so much more that in turn has the potential to open your mind and allow your creative juices to flow. The tranquility of nature allows us to take a break from our busy, high stress, sometimes chaotic lives, and provides our brains and bodies the rest it needs in order to recharge and refocus.
And there are lots more benefits. Try adding a 30 minute walk through the park each week to see what else there is to gain from nature.