The sights, sounds and scents of nature have calming effects. The natural aromas of trees, the sun’s rays on your skin and the view of the green landscape help to reduce stress levels.
A nature walk can inspire kids to be inquisitive about the world around them. Make it a fun experience by creating a scavenger hunt list that they can complete during your walk.
In a society that’s indoors 90% of the time, getting a regular dose of nature can help refresh your mind and spirit. There’s a growing body of research supporting the positive effects of nature on mood, memory, attention and creativity.
For instance, a 2020 study found that walking in natural environments (as opposed to watching a nature video) decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases positive feelings. Children who grow up in green homes may also have lower risk of psychiatric disorders.
Researchers suspect that breathing in the aromatic oils in forests can elevate levels of cancer-fighting Natural Killer Cells (NK cells) in the immune system. This is known as “forest bathing.”
Research has shown that walking in nature can reduce stress levels, improve mood and boost focus. This can be attributed to the sights, sounds and smells that surround us in nature.
A recent study compared brain scans of participants during a 1-hour walk in a grassland environment and on a traffic-heavy four-lane roadway. The results showed decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a region active during rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative emotions).
While nature provides many benefits, some groups in our population face barriers to accessing it such as women, young people, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities and chronic illnesses. These individuals often experience less well-being than those who do not have these barriers.
Improves Mental Health
The sights, sounds and smells of nature trigger a soothing chemical in the brain called Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid or GABA. This reduces stress and enhances mood, which makes walking in nature a great way to improve mental health.
Studies show that people who spend time in natural environments experience less depression and anxiety than those who don’t. This may be because walking in nature helps people relax and focus.
In fact, some doctors are even prescribing nature walks to their patients who have anxiety and high blood pressure. The scientific literature presents convincing evidence that nature walk significantly improves self-reported levels of depression and anxiety.
In a world filled with digital distractions, maintaining a level of focus and creativity can be a challenge. However, a walk in nature may be just the ticket to spark creative inspiration.
Researchers have found that spending time in nature can help to increase creative problem-solving skills. One study showed that participants performed better on a creative thinking test after taking it while walking than they did after sitting down to complete it.
Researchers attribute this to the fact that walking allows the brain to experience a state of soft fascination, which relaxes the prefrontal cortex and helps the brain access the regions associated with creative problem-solving. Just a few days in nature can boost creativity by up to 50%.
Encourages Healthy Habits
If you’re battling with a mental health issue, walking in nature can inspire healthy habits to support your wellbeing. For example, practicing a mindfulness technique, such as gratitude reflection or positive self-talk, may help you to feel happier and calmer.
Practicing these techniques in natural environments can promote feelings of happiness and well-being, while reducing stress and improving focus. Walking in green spaces is also an excellent way to stay physically active, boosting heart and metabolic health.
While you can get many benefits from simply spending time in nature alone, it’s also important to walk with family or friends. Research shows that social walks have increased feelings of well-being compared to solo walks.
Encourages Family Time
Incorporating family walks into a regular routine can help everyone feel connected to the natural world and more excited about their daily lives. Even if an overgrown hiking trail through the woods isn’t an option, a walk through your neighborhood can be as good for you and your kids as it is for the environment.
Encourage kids to take notes or drawings about what they see on their hikes. They can also use their findings (such as rocks, twigs and leaves) to create art. Playing games like I-spy, tag or a scavenger hunt on your hikes can make them more fun for the whole family.