Imagine a rejuvenation therapy which is beneficial for the mind and the body. It has no side effects, it is available at any time, and doesn’t cost a penny. No, it’s not just another fairy tale. It’s actually the most underrated form of exercise. The one which majority of people don’t even consider as one, and even take it for granted.
To the Japanese people known as Shinrin-Yoku or Forest Bathing, and to the rest of us as walking in nature. Shinrin-Yoku is a traditional Japanese practice which refers to immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. It’s a form of healing therapy used in the Japanese preventive medicine which has therapeutic effects on the immune and cardiovascular systems, and renders a state of physiological and mental relaxation.
Studies conducted over the past few years show that walking in nature is far more beneficial than walking in urban areas. A study conducted by Gregory Bratman and his collaborators shows that participants who walked 90min in nature reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced natural activity in an area of the brain which is linked to risk for mental illness, compared to the participants who walked in an urban area.
Physiological benefits of walking in nature
Many people don’t think of walking as a form of exercise, let alone consider it as part of their fitness program. Just because it doesn’t make you dripping sweat, it doesn’t mean that it won’t aid to your fitness and wellness.
Depending on your fitness level and goals, there are many ways you can incorporate walking into your workout routine.
Those of you who are just starting your fitness journey or cannot participate in vigorous physical activities because of health reasons, can use walking as part of your exercise program. Start with slow 30 min walking a few times a week, and after a week or two increase either the time or the seed. This will help you with your weight loss, cardio-respiratory and physical endurance, and it can also reduce the cholesterol level, manage diabetes, depression and anxiety.
If you are engaged in moderate or high physical activity, then walking in nature can be part of your recovery process. On your rest days, or after a high intensity workout, going for a brisk walk in the nearing park will speed up your recovery process. Going for a walk will increase the blood flow. This will help your body to distribute the nutrients to the cells and take out the waste products faster. Which consequently will help decrease your muscle soreness.
Mental benefits of walking in nature
While the physical benefits of walking are notable even if you just walk around your neighborhood, the research from before shows that walking in nature is far more beneficial when it comes to our mental health.
According to the science, walking through green spaces in nature puts the brain into meditative state allowing you to merge with the present moment and pay attention to the world around you. This reduces the stress, creates the calmness you need for self-reflection, and opens the doors of creativity.
Another research conducted by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz from Stanford University, found that walking increases the creative output by an average of 60%. It’s not a surprise that some of the greatest creatives, as Aristotle, Ludwig van Beethoven, Steve Jobs, Charls Dickens, were enjoying the benefits of daily walks. Mark Zuckerberg took it even a step further, and is holding walking meetings through the plant filled Facebook terraces.
And if you are an introvert as I am, than spending a lot of time among people, no matter how much you love them, will drain your energy quickly. Walking in nature, while paying attention to the plants around you, and listening to the sounds of the birds, wind, or water, will help you feel more relaxed and focused, and restore your energy.
Walking alone has huge benefits for our health, but taking it out in the park can be a life-changer.