The Health Benefits of Walking in Nature (And Why We Have Wooded Walking Trails)

seniors walking on a walking path at a senior living community

During trying times, one of the most therapeutic and soothing activities you can do is also one of the simplest: Walk in nature. As you meander down a trail and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of greenery, wildlife and blooms, the benefits of spending time in nature bring space for relief and time to reflect.

In Japan, this practice of spending time among trees is considered part of a good lifestyle and called “forest bathing.” The quiet atmosphere, beautiful scenery, and clean fresh air allows for relaxation, while breathing in the antimicrobial essential oils naturally released by trees has a positive effect on the immune system

 

The benefits of spending time in nature.

As much as nature is balm for the soul, science shows that “green exercise” or “nature therapy” can lead to significant health benefits, and in fact is essential to our health. It improves blood pressure, boosts your mood and mental health, and decreases the risk of cancer. Here are 10 reasons why it’s so important:

1. Nature walks have memory-promoting effects. A study testing the memory of walkers in an arboretum compared the result to walkers in an urban environment. The participants walking among trees did 20% better than the city walkers. A similar test found that just looking at pictures of trees and fields boosted cognitive function.   

2. Spending time in nature lowers the amount of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is one of the stress hormones released in a “fight or flight” situation. When stress is always present, your body is constantly on high alert, leading to health problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems and heart disease.   

3. Among the benefits of spending time in nature is that it can reduce inflammation. Inflammation in the body is associated with a range of illnesses including autoimmune disorders. In a study of seniors, it was found that nature therapy reduced hypertension and inhibited inflammation.

4. Outdoor environments relieve mental fatigue. They’re rich in characteristics that help restore our attention, mental energy and feelings of inspiration.

5. Anxiety, depression and self-esteem are positively affected by interacting with nature. Our brains process natural stimuli (e.g., sunsets) as restorative. Stimulation in an urban environment (e.g., billboards, car horns) is processed in a different way by our brain and is less restorative.

6. Being outdoors is better for our sleep. A study that examined the benefits of spending time in nature found that seniors have a greater need for natural light, as it helps regulate healthy circadian rhythms that affect sleep, mood and thinking processes.

7. Outdoor time lowers blood pressure. An intensive study found that walking in the forest lowered pulse rates by an average of almost 4% and blood pressure by nearly 2%.

8. Forest environments appeared to stimulate the production of anti-cancer proteins in our bodies. It reduced the levels of stress-causing agents and other factors associated with cancer.

9. Nature helps you solve problems more creatively. Participants of a study who spent time in a natural setting performed better when working on a task that required creativity and complex problem solving.

10. Greenness helps us live longer. A Harvard study found that green, nature-filled environments increase longevity. The combined benefits of spending time in nature included stress relief, less exposure to air pollution, more opportunities for physical activity, and better mental and social health.  

While we all need to focus to complete tasks successfully and manage our days, sustained periods of directed attention, especially using technology, are mentally draining. Spending time in nature is restorative, allowing us to observe natural patterns, the colors of a sunset, or the shapes of leaves, flowers and clouds. Using our senses in this way relieves our brains of task-specific, problem-solving activity. We can rejuvenate and relax.

If you’re craving a closeness to nature you don’t currently have, Galleria Woods’ lush, tree-filled setting will put it right at your door. Ensconced in  20 wooded acres by the Cahaba River, our community offers a maintenance-free lifestyle that frees you to stroll  through landscaped gardens and courtyards, shaded walking paths and beautiful natural scenery. Step out and discover a path to better health and happiness at Galleria Woods. Call 205-390-6600.