Walking in nature provides a powerful boost to your health. In fact, studies show that you can reap benefits in as little as two recreational hours spent in nature a week.
City dwellers have higher rates of mental illness, and a recent study found that walking in nature decreases activity in brain regions associated with stress.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Study after study has shown that walking in nature reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increases positive mood and helps prevent depression. It also boosts the activity of cancer-fighting NK cells and increases the sense of community among people.
One of the reasons for this is that walking in nature decreases rumination and negative thoughts, according to a Stanford University study. Rumination is the repeated rehashing of negative thoughts or situations, and it has been linked to depression. People who walked in nature had lower levels of these negative thoughts and feelings, and they had more working memory performance than those who walked in urban settings.
This is because walking in nature triggers the release of 3 major brain chemicals that are associated with a good mood. And, as with regular exercise, walking in nature improves the ability to focus.
Improves Mood and Well-Being
A growing body of research shows that walking in nature, or even looking at pictures of green spaces, boosts happiness and improves mood. In fact, one study found that people who spent two hours a week walking in natural environments (whether they did it all at once or spread it out over the week) reported better health and feelings of well-being than those who didn’t.
Interacting with nature can also improve cognitive functioning. For example, a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that children with access to green space were more likely to engage in self-control behaviors than those without access to green spaces. And another study found that adults with access to green spaces had less trouble maintaining their focus on a task compared to those who did not.
In short, spending time in nature helps us feel healthier, happier and more inspired—and that’s why it is such a great preventative health measure!
Improves Physical Health
The regular physical activity involved in walking in nature is great for weight loss, and also improves cardiovascular health, blood pressure and circulation. It can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Exposure to nature and outdoor activities helps boost the immune system, improving resistance to infections and disease. People who live closer to parks, forests and other natural areas are healthier, happier and more inspired to care for them.
Spending time in nature stimulates the activity of a certain chemical in the brain called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (or GABA). This relaxes the nervous system and promotes positive mood. Walking in nature can improve focus, attention and memory and lower stress. Studies have found that children who walk outdoors regularly have better performance in school and fewer need for ADHD and ADD medications. The calming effects of nature may also prevent childhood obesity. Walking in nature can help you sleep better, reduce insomnia and indigestion and even decrease the risk of autoimmune diseases and cancers.
Reduces Depression and Anxiety
Studies show that walking in nature reduces self-reported levels of depression and anxiety. The effect may be attributed to the positive effects on the autonomic nervous system. Walking in nature increases parasympathetic activity and decreases sympathetic activity. The sympathetic nervous system directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations and is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response, while the parasympathetic nervous system relaxes the body and inhibits or slows many high energy functions and is also known as the ‘rest and digest’ response.
Researchers have even found that watching videos of natural environments can increase attention, improve mood and cause an uptick in empathy and cooperation. This research supports what some call the “salutogenic” approach to health, which promotes healthy lifestyle habits and is seen as preventative, in contrast to the pathogenesis approach to healthcare that focuses on disease treatment.
The differences in the tools used to measure depression and anxiety across the studies resulted in a low level of heterogeneity, shown by the small I2 value in the funnel plots. This suggests that the results are robust.