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Movement is essential for optimal health. Walking is an easy and popular way that many people gravitate towards in order to add movement to their day. In today’s post I want to not only encourage you to take a walk, but I also want to highly encourage you to take a walk in nature.
Outdoor enthusiasts have long known the healing powers of nature. Science, however, seems to be just starting to figure this out. But those of us who are drawn naturally to the earth and its trees, flowers, and other extraordinary sights don’t need studies to tell us it’s so. Still, if you need to know the benefits to help motivate you to put your shoes on after dinner tonight and take a stroll through the woods, here you go.
Mental Health Benefits of Walking in Nature
There’s a lot of benefits, including mental health benefits of walking in nature. The Mental Health Foundation states that “Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, and creativity and can facilitate concentration. Nature connectedness is also associated with lower levels of poor mental health, particularly depression and anxiety.”
10 More Benefits of Walking in Nature
I think one of my top reasons for walking in nature for myself is this one. Nature walks can significantly reduce stress and anxiety which leads to relaxation during and after the walk. I can’t think of a single walk or hike in nature that left me feeling stressed afterwards. Even the time my son and I became temporarily lost, we still came out of the woods with smiles.
Being in a natural environment can boost your mood and increase feelings of happiness. There’s something about nature that addresses all of the senses and brings smiles. Especially if you are mindful of looking around and observing all there is to see. I love looking for the signs of the seasons changing and birds!
Exposure to natural light and fresh air can increase your energy levels. This is especially true if you take a walk in the morning getting that first light of the day. This is one habit I’ve fallen out of and am trying to get back into.
Nature walks have been shown to improve focus and concentration. Have you noticed this within yourself?
Walking is a low-impact, full-body exercise that promotes fitness and cardiovascular health. It also keeps the lymphatic fluid flowing as it ought to in your body. Check out this post on walking.
Vitamin D Production
Sunlight exposure during walks helps your body produce vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and overall well-being. Need more information on vitamin D? Check out this post!
Regular nature walks can help regulate sleep patterns and combat insomnia. The natural light helps with the production of melatonin in addition to the physical activity, and the relaxation the nature brings to the walk.
It’s important to note that individual experiences may vary. How much light your body needs may be slightly different than the next person but we do ALL need light. It seems the benefits of nature walks for sleep can also depend on factors such as the duration of the walks, the time of day they are taken, and personal preferences or needs. However, incorporating regular nature walks into your routine, especially during daylight hours, can certainly help improve your sleep patterns and overall sleep quality.
Reduction of Artificial Light Exposure
Spending time in nature means less exposure to artificial light, especially in the evening. Artificial light from screens and indoor lighting can disrupt your sleep patterns by interfering with your body’s ability to recognize when it’s time to sleep. Therefore, here’s another way it improves sleep.
Immune System Boost
Time in nature can strengthen your immune system and help your body fight off illnesses. Studies in Japan have indicated that connecting with nature can increase killer T cell activity (type of white blood cell) which boosts immunity and also lowers blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol (known as the stress hormone).
Lower Blood Pressure
Being in natural surroundings can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension. Know someone with high blood pressure? Ask them to be your walking partner.
Spending time outdoors exposes your body to natural temperature variations, helping you acclimate to different weather conditions. This can improve your body’s ability to regulate temperature while sleeping, which is essential for a good night’s rest.
Connection to Nature
Building a deeper connection with the nature can foster a sense of awe and appreciation for the world around us.
Walking in nature provides an opportunity for mindfulness and being present in the moment.
Improve this by engaging in your senses as you walk. Feel the ground beneath your feet (barefoot if you can). Take some deep breaths, letting them out slowly. Notice what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste if there’s something edible nearby.
Better Respiratory Health
Breathing in fresh, clean air in natural settings such as the woods, open meadow, and other outdoor, non-urban, less polluted areas can improve respiratory health.
Spending time in nature fosters a sense of environmental awareness and stewardship and also encourages sustainable living.
These benefits highlight the positive impact that spending time in nature can have on your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll through a park, a hike in the woods, or a sandy walk on the beach, taking time to connect with nature can be a valuable addition to your daily routine.
I mentioned forest bathing in my recent post on How To Renew Your Mind. There’s a lot of benefits to forest bathing.
Forest bathing originated in Japan in the 1980s as a response to the stressful and fast-paced urban lifestyles that many people were leading. Obviously Japan is not the only place where people lead stressed and fast-paced lifestyles; thus the practice has spread far and wide and has become quite popular.
Forest bathing, or “shinrin-yoku” in Japanese, means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere.’ Forest bathing isn’t a bath in water. It’s really just immersing oneself in a natural environment, typically a forest or wooded area, with the purpose of enhancing physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s a form of nature therapy that emphasizes mindfulness and sensory engagement with the natural surroundings.
While forest bathing, some suggest that as you walk down the hill (or even when you walk down stairs), you should lead with the opposite leg than the one you usually use- creating balance and building muscles and bone density in your lesser used parts of the body.
How To Take A Nature Walk (With Kids)
The homeschool momma part of me kicked in as I was writing this post. I guess it’s just the momma part but for those of you that do not homeschool, there’s a big population of us homeschoolers that thrive on getting our kids outdoors and teaching them about and show awe to the natural world around us created by God. So it’s just natural to me to think about kids while I write about taking a walk in nature.
When you are walking with kids in nature, you want them to really enjoy it. It’s okay to let your kids get dirty (it actually IMPROVES their immune system). Let them turn over rocks and touch the trees. Examine plants and watch for critters. I always liked creating a scavenger hunt or things to look for when my youngest son was quite young.
For more information on walking with kids in nature, check out this cool article on Very Well Family. If you homeschool, or even if you don’t, there’s a ton of books on the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling in which Charlotte talks a great deal about spending time in nature. You could even start nature journaling with your children (or just you yourself)!
Would you like to read more about the benefits of nature on the human body and mind? Check out these books:
Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature by M. Amos Clifford
The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Williams and Zellar
Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever by Clinton Ober and others
In Summary: Taking a walk in nature is beneficial on many levels. This is truly a habit worth striving for. Even if you are unable to manage a short daily walk in nature, just once a week would be incredibly helpful. And if you can’t manage that? Aim for once a month. Your mind and body will thank you. Where’s your favorite place in nature to take a walk?