5 powerful reasons why walking & nature is good for us (according to science)

Health benefits Nature & walking is good for us
Walking in nature is one of the best ways to improve your health & wellbeing with a whole host of physical & mental health benefits. Here's 5 powerful reasons, backed by science, why it's good for us:

1. Nature & walking makes you happier & improves life satisfaction:

Recent studies into the effects of spending more time in nature are proving that a good dose of nature a week significantly boosts health & well-being.

One such study involving 20,000 people in England showed that spending two hours a week amongst natural surroundings had a tangible impact on overall life satisfaction. Two-thirds of those that spent two hours or more surrounded by nature every week were satisfied with their life, compared to around half of those who spent little time outside. This benefit happened even if you just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet in a park, the beach or the woods.



According to another Finnish study, spending just 15 minutes sitting in nature helped people feel psychologically restored. Those results were even faster when they spent that time walking.


Exercise in nature increases Serotonin (the happy hormone)

If we exercise in nature, rather than in a gym, we tend to exercise for longer. One study found that people who exercise in the outdoors on a regular basis have higher levels of a hormone called serotonin, which reduces tiredness and helps keep us in a happier mood.

Time in nature gives us an instant uplift - we are evolutionary predisposed to respond positively to nature - that's why you even respond to a picture like this one! Imagine the benefits of actually sitting on that bench right now  :-) 

2. Nature & walking reduces stress, anxiety & depression:

One of the most intriguing areas of current research is the impact of nature on general wellbeing. In one study in Mind, 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, changing from depressed, stressed, and anxious to more calm and balanced. 


When you spend time in nature, stress levels have been shown to decrease. One such study at Chiba University, showed spending just 15 minutes in a natural environment reduced the stress hormone cortisol by 16 per cent. They pointed out our senses are adapted to spend time in nature - not traffic and high-rise buildings.


Most of us have heard of the high that runners get from exercise - however walking can be just as beneficial and help ease depressive disorders which are associated with physical inactivity. Plenty of studies are proving that walking can have a significant impact on combatting depressive symptoms, with some doctors even prescribing it to treat depression! Researchers at the University of Essex found that 9 out of 10 patients suffering from depression felt "higher self-esteem after a walk through a park" and almost three-quarters reported feeling less depressed. But anyone can benefit from the positive uplifting effects of walking - try it for yourself - and just evaluate your mood before and after a walk.




Walking in natural settings can surprisingly improve your immunity via your microbiome

3. Nature & walking improves physical health & boosts immunity:

Walking can improve overall health

Walking is a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, burn calories, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. It can also reduce your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers. Unlike some other forms of exercise, walking is free and doesn’t require any special equipment or training - so it is the most accessible of all forms of exercise.


The outdoors increases Vitamin D

Spending time outdoors in the sun helps your body create Vitamin D—a vitamin that studies have shown may help prevent cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been found in the people who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) which can happen in parts of the world where winters consist of shorter days and people don't get outside as often.


Nature Strenthens Immune System

A Japanese study showed women who spent six hours in the woods over a two-day period increased their white blood cells, which fight virus, and the boost lasted about a week after the experiment.


Nature improves your microbiome

80% of your immune system is located in your gut, and the healthier your gut microbiome is - the better your immunity and vice versa. By walking in natural settings, you are exposing yourself to all sorts of microbes that can benefit your microbiome and immunity. Gardeners get an added benefit when they have their hands in soil and it has been shown that children who spent more time playing in nature have less allergies when they grow up.


Nature heals

Humans have evolved in natural settings and we are genetically programmed to find trees, plants, water, and other nature elements engrossing,  which has been shown to help with pain and healing.  In a now classic study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; from their hospital beds, half had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study, Robert Ulrich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a hospital. More recent studies have shown similar results with scenes from nature and plants in hospital rooms. So even if you can't get outside, a picture on your wall or plant in your house can still have a positive impact. 


Biophilia & the need to be connected to nature

Biophilia proposes that our health & well-being is dependent on being connected to nature and is well substantiated by various studies showing natures benefit to us. It proposes that like other living organisms - we thrive in certain environmental conditions and suffer in others. From an evolutionary point of view, because human beings have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years in close alignment to natural environments, we are evolutionary predisposed to respond best to natural environments & natural elements. It's only relatively recently where we have become more separated from nature, living & working in more artificial, sterilised environments. Studies have shown the health benefits to even just having sunlight indoors, a natural view out of the window or plants in a room, so imagine the benefits of spending time walking outdoors amongst stunning natural landscapes. I think a lot of us instinctively know this - as we feel the uplift from a good walk in the great outdoors (or even a local park) as opposed to a walk in more urban, artificial built up settings.

Walking can be a great way to socialise for people of all ages

4. Walking can be a great way to socialise and reap the benefits of social interaction 

You can get many benefits from walking in nature just by yourself - and it's good to have some alone time now and again. But socialising has many benefits for human beings, so it's also great to walk with others, whether that's our partner, family or friends, as the benefits of walking in nature are further enhanced. 

A recent study has found that people who exercised in a group rather than on their own had decreased stress levels and had better mental and physical well-being at the end of a 12-week fitness program.

Psychologist Susan Pinker states that direct person-to-person contact triggers parts of our nervous system that release a “cocktail” of neurotransmitters tasked with regulating our response to stress and anxiety.

She adds that, as a result of social interaction, “dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.”

Interestingly, researchers who have studied the inhabitants of so-called Blue Zones around the world — places with a high number of SuperAgers who live to ripe old age while maintaining good health and cognitive function — have noted that while other elements related to diet and lifestyle varied widely, they all appeared to be dedicated to being highly socially active.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou, who studied SuperAgers on the isolated island of Ikaria in Greece, saw that they were constantly surrounded by family, neighbors, and other members of their community, and that they all actively supported each other.


So as you can see socialising in and of itself is great for us, and if we can do that whist walking too - then great! Personally sometimes I like hiking on my own - and sometimes with others - totally depends on how I'm felling and the type of hike I wish to do (and who is up to the various challenge :-) For some reason I always think talking whilst walking also makes it easier to talk, open up and keep the conversation flowing (must be all the happy hormones from the exercise) - and for me there's no better way to enjoy a chat and catch up with family & friends than on a good old walk in the outdoors.

We humans are social creatures and loneliness has been shown to be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day - so what if you want to walk with others but your social circle is limited? Then there are plenty of walking groups around to join if you can seek them out. And, whilst I have no scientific studies to prove this - from my own personal experience - those who are into hiking and nature just tend to be really decent people and great to socialise with :)

It's almost impossible to look at a stunning natural landscape and not feel a sense of awe and amazement at the world

5. Being in nature creates the special feeling of awe:

Finally, there are things in life that seem to more frequently elicit feelings of awe. What do we mean by this? Have you ever seen the most amazing view or a beautiful sunset, which stopped you right in your tracks? You couldn’t help but just say 'wow; at what you are seeing? You felt awe and amazement and a tremendous satisfaction at seeing this beautiful sight? And you just felt uplifted and thankful to witness such a thing and lucky to be alive?

Stanford University concluded that this feeling of awe expands people’s perception of time, and significantly increases wellbeing. Nature was one area of life that consistently elicited feelings of awe in their research amongst participants and it resulted in giving people a mental boost, which can last well beyond a fleeting moment. The realisation that awe-some things exist can also alter your perspective on life itself and can make you feel more connection to this amazing world we live in too. Which is no bad thing eh?

Seeing a spectatcular landscape is an instant uplift to your very being!

So there you go - plenty of evidence that nature combined with walking are really really good for your mental & physical wellbeing. So what are you waiting for - plan a walk in the outdoors right now - and this very blog is set-up to help you do just that!

Post by Stuart Hodgson 
'The Hiking Photographer'

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