Home Outdoor education Nature walks can relieve stress

Nature walks can relieve stress


Science shows how immersion in nature can speed healing and act as an antidote for many ailments. Last year I went on a nature walk. I was able to stop and take a different look at the trees around me. I listened to the sounds and wondered what there was to see. It was really refreshing.

Nature can relieve you of the stress of a major life transition. The exercise, combined with the beautiful scenery, is a daily dose of soothing comfort. Gazing at the huge trees reminded me of the many winter storms and the changes they have gone through over their lifetime. Seeing a red-tailed hawk will make you think about the need for a “bird’s eye view” for a broader perspective of your own situation. Observing vegetation, ants, butterflies and squirrels will reflect that life is constantly changing and adapting over time.

The wilderness will provide a place to reflect, discern, plan and breathe out the stress of ongoing personal changes. Taking the time to stop and look closely at insects, flowers, rocks and leaves will show you how life is constantly happening around us. It’s a great way to celebrate nature.

Nature can be a source of inspiration

Nature serves as a refuge to inspire, reflect and heal. Studies reveal that being in nature has a powerful positive effect on mind, body, and spirit. The statistics on the health benefits of being in nature for children are remarkable and, in many ways, not surprising. Outdoor activities increase physical fitness, increase vitamin D levels and improve distance vision. Being in nature reduces ADHD symptoms. Schools offering outdoor education programs help students perform better on standardized tests and improve their critical thinking skills. Nature also reduces stress levels and improves social interactions between children.

A nature walk can combine good exercise and beautiful scenery, providing a dose of soothing comfort.

These benefits also translate to adults. In adults, studies show that being in nature speeds up the process of restoring health, lowers blood pressure and lowers the risk of cancer, all while lifting people‘s spirits. In a classic study done in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital between 1972 and 1981, patients who saw deciduous trees through the window recovered from surgery much faster than those who saw a brick wall. Patients with a nature view also received fewer negative evaluations from their nurses and received fewer pain injections.

High blood pressure, which affects one in three Americans, costs the United States more than $48 billion a year. A recent study, however, shows that adults can lower their blood pressure simply by spending 30 minutes or more per week walking in a park. In a study looking at the link between nature and cancer, people who took two long walks in nature for two consecutive days had an increase in their cancer-fighting cells, called NK cells, by 50% and an increase in activity of these. 56% cells. Additionally, cell activity levels remained elevated for a month. These studies highlight the many ways that simply getting outdoors will benefit us psychologically and physically. These are scientific numbers, not mine.

Japan promotes “forest bathing” for preventive health care

Some of the most interesting research on the link between health and nature comes from Japan. Walking and spending time in forests, known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a popular form of preventive health care in Japan. Studies now prove the health benefits of spending time in forests. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of the University of Chiba, Japan, found that a 40-minute walk through a cedar forest lowers the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, as well as blood pressure and supports the immune system more than a similar 40-minute walk indoors in a lab.

Qing Li of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo has shown that trees and plants emit compounds known as phytoncides which, when inhaled, provide us with therapeutic benefits akin to aromatherapy. Phytoncides also change blood composition, which impacts our protection against cancer, strengthens our immune system and lowers our blood pressure. Toledo Metroparks has taken the lead in these forest walks.

Experiencing nature not only reduces stress, but also improves our cognitive abilities. Gregory Bratman of Stanford University and his colleagues enrolled 60 participants who were randomly divided into two groups: the first group took a 50-minute “nature” walk surrounded by trees and vegetation, and the second group took an “urban” walk along a high – traffic lane. Nature walkers showed cognitive benefits, including increased working memory performance, “decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and retention of positive affect.” Just one more proof that walking in the forest is very beneficial.

So why not take your walking shoes out of the closet and start your own weekly or daily routine?

Susan La Fountaine is a Master Gardener with the Sandusky and Ottawa Counties Extension Offices.