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Friday, May 13, 2016

Why Walking in Nature Fights Against Stress


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Between work, education, family obligations, community involvement, and personal hobbies, there’s just not enough time or focus to go around. It’s really not surprising that more people than ever experience daily depression and anxiety in their lives, but how are we supposed to fix that?

Ancient humans developed a natural instinct known as “fight or flight” to deal with imminent threats. When faced with dangerous situations, they would either hold their ground to fight back or retreat to safety. Fight or flight logic is still a very real part of our DNA, and even though you can’t punch out your feelings of stress, you can get moving.

One of the best options to ease negativity in your life is to walk, and by far the best place to walk is in nature. The combined effects of the activity and the setting give us incredible benefits for our health. Here’s why:

Nature Lowers Our Stress Levels

The greatest value of walking outdoors comes from stress relief. While all exercise helps to relieve stress, it’s even more helpful to walk outdoors compared to someplace like a shopping mall, indoor track, or office building corridor.

There’s a reason for that. Most of our stress is generated by the things around us that remind us of our everyday life: what’s going on at work, family relationships, household chores, and so forth.

Getting exercise in an environment that contains visual reminders of our stressors is less effective than exercising in a natural setting. Time in the park or in the woods is filled with the songs of birds, the wind rustling through the leaves, beautiful dappled sunshine on water, and all kinds of other sensory input that in no way looks like your piled up inbox or the leaky pipes in your kitchen.

Nature Has Fewer Distractions

Any exercise is best when it can take place free from unwanted distractions. That’s why many people in gyms listen to music on their earbuds to avoid distracting conversations. Focus is critical to make the most of exercise time.

And there are external distractions beyond the voices of other people. Street vendors, stoplights, or storefront displays could stop you and interfere with your time at target heartrate. It’s tough to maintain a reliable exercise routine when there’s so much external stimulation. Walking in nature has far fewer distractions.

Air Quality Is Much Better in Nature

Trees are widely known to be powerful oxygen generators, but even more important is the fact that they don’t generate unwanted gases. A walk or jog in an urban setting is better than no exercise at all, but a city sidewalk is pummeled with vehicle emissions and other city pollutants all day. Those deeper breaths you’re taking are bringing in carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particles of dust, and many other materials that your lungs don’t need.

A walk in a natural environment avoids these problems. The source of fresh oxygen is all around you, and you’re at a safe distance from tailpipes and smokestacks. As a result, you’re taking better air and better scenery all at once.

Let’s be clear: walking anywhere is better than sitting in a chair or sprawling on a couch. But exercise is all about maximizing the impact of your actions, and when you choose to do your walking outdoors in a beautiful, natural environment, you’ll gain far more benefits than you would from a similar walk on city streets.


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