Spending time walking in nature is like drinking a nourishing tonic. When I’ve had a particularly stressful day, a walk in nature invariably slows my heart rate down, quietens my over-active mind and grounds me in the present moment. It’s as if a dark cloud lifts and I can see the world again.
Although people have been walking in nature for centuries, a plethora of scientific research now shows taking a stroll in a natural setting is more than just a nice leisurely thing to do, but rather a vital panacea for human health and wellbeing.
Why is Walking in Nature Good for Our Health & Wellbeing?
Walking in nature is good for our health and wellbeing in a myriad of ways, yet it’s thought the average person spends 90% of their time inside. Amid growing concerns that we, the "indoor generation", are becoming vulnerable to a number of health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle, it perhaps has never been a more critical time to leave our screens at the door and step into the healing power of nature.
So, here are 3 incredible reasons why walking in nature is so important for our health and wellbeing.
1. Nature heals your body
Did you know that you only need to spend 120 minutes a week in nature to reap the health benefits? From lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes right through to reducing the possibility of asthma hospitalisations and obesity, taking a walk in nature can significantly improve physical health.
But to truly feel the health benefits of walking in nature, experts are recommending something called forest bathing.
Forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku) is a burgeoning eco-therapy movement that started in Japan in the 1980s. It’s the mindful act of walking through a forest and intentionally using all five senses to immerse yourself in the beauty of your natural surroundings.
Studies have shown that consciously walking in nature helps lower cortisol levels and strengthens our immune system, with exposure to phytoncides (the essential oils released from trees) helping the body produce natural killer (NK) cells which fight viruses and cancer - amazing right?!
Although it’s not always easy to get out for a nature walk, research shows that even just listening to “natural sounds” can positively impact the fight or flight and rest and digest nervous systems in the body, helping us feel more relaxed.
2. Nature heals your mind
The answer to good mental health could be as simple as shovelling a pile of dirt in your back garden… seriously!
Soil bacteria, in particular Mycobacterium vaccae, have been found to increase serotonin in the brain and act as an antidepressant.
In 2004, London based oncologist Dr. Mary O’Brien injected lung cancer patients with M. vaccae in the hope it would prolong their lives. Although the results weren’t as expected, O’Brien found M. vaccae significantly helped patient “quality of life” in the throes of battling terminal cancer; improving their mood, energy levels and cognitive functioning.
With 68% of the world’s population living in urban areas by 2050, our sterile modern lives leave few opportunities to spend time in green spaces and benefit from vital exposure to healthy microbes like M. vaccae.
Our bodies are brimming with trillions of microbiome (bacteria, fungi, viruses) which exist mainly in our nose, mouth, gut and on our skin. While some microbes cause disease, others are good for our immune systems and regulate our moods.
So, whether it's walking in nature, or planting bulbs in the back garden, who knew the dirt under our feet could be making us feel happier?!
3. Nature heals communities
The healing power of nature isn't limited to just the mind and body.
Spending time in nature can go as far as transforming whole communities, improving social cohesion and lowering crime rates.
A study by the journal BioScience found that exposure to natural spaces helped people feel more connected to their communities, as well as improving individual wellbeing.
Spending time in nature accounted for 8% of variance in community cohesion, showing nature to be far more integral to reinforcing community ties than income, gender, age and education combined which only accounted for 3% variability.
The same study also found the presence of nature or farmland accounted for 4% variability in crime rates, meaning nature is almost as powerful in influencing criminal activity as socioeconomic deprivation, which accounted for 5% variance.
Interested in learning more about how urban communities are embracing nature? Check out this article on sustainable cities.
Walking in Nature Quotes
So, now that we have all the facts, let’s get you in the nature strolling mood.
Here are some beautiful walking in nature quotes to inspire you!
“To walk in nature is to witness and thousand miracles.” - Mary Davis
“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” - Henry David Thoreau
“In every walk with nature one receive far more than he seeks.” - John Muir
“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” - Albert Einstein
“Not all those who wander are lost.” - J.R.R. Tolkien
“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” - Walt Whitman
“I found more answers in the woods than I ever did in the city.” - Mary Davis
“Time spent amongst trees is never wasted time.” - Katrina Mayer
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” - Robert Frost
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous.” - Aristotle
In a world where modern-day pressures force us to become increasingly more insular, scientists are discovering the powerful health and wellbeing benefits that come from walking in nature.
This special mind-body connection with nature is not an entirely new discovery, with many researchers believing human beings to have an intrinsic biological need to be close with nature which stems back to our ancient predecessors.
From rising populations and deforestation right through to plastic pollution and burning fossil fuels, human activity is destroying the very thing we need the most.
Even so, perhaps we all have the power to change the course of things and restore our age-old connection with nature - all we need to do is step outside.
How do you feel when walking in nature? Where are your favourite nature walking spots?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below and make sure to share this post with any fellow nature-lovers!