The Mental and Physical Benefits of Walking In the Woods

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Walking in any environment is good for our physical and mental health, but strolling or striding in a natural setting – woods, park, garden, tree-lined neighborhood – is even better for de-stressing and provides other health benefits.

“When we get to nature, our health improves,” says Dr. Aaron Michelfelder of Loyola University Chicago. “Our stress hormones rise all day long in our bloodstream and taking even a few moments while walking to reconnect with our inner thoughts and to check in with our body will lower those damaging stress hormones.”

There are several reasons why walking in natural settings is relaxing and healthful. One of them has to do with the way we use our attention.

Letting the Mind Wander

We have two basic types of attention. Voluntary attention is what people consciously focus on. Involuntary attention occurs when something grabs our attention. Directing our voluntary attention throughout the day to take care of life’s business fatigues the mind, but when we walk in a natural setting our mind has an opportunity to wander. In this environment, our mind is involuntarily but pleasantly engaged and refreshed by its surroundings.

“In a lot of natural areas, you’re away from loud noises and distractions,” said researcher Dr. Marc Berman of Rotman Research Institute, Toronto. “It tends to be less crowded so you don’t have to worry about bumping into people, and it also has interesting stimulation to look at, which captures your attention automatically.”

Three More Reasons To Walk in Natural Settings

  1. Walking just 220 yards away from a road lowers the vehicle emissions level four times. Even walking in a downtown park or garden area significantly raises the quality of air you breathe.
  2. Trees give off phytoncides, a chemical that protects them from insects and rot. Japanese researchers discovered that when study participants breathed phytoncides while walking in a wooded area, their stress hormone levels and blood pressures dropped, and their immune systems were measurably strengthened.
  3. Natural areas contain more fractal patterns – a complexity of shapes – than most urban areas. These patterns engage and please our senses. We may also benefit from being in areas awash in the life-affirming color of green.

For best walk-in-the-woods results, let all calls go to voicemail.

Sources: Science Daily, Globe and Mail

 
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