The one thing we know is that the human race are all different in what makes them tick, particularly when it comes to outdoor activity. You may enjoy days wrapped up in warm clothing, wearing hardy boots, walking through the forest kicking snow. Or you may be one of those that love the early spring and summer, when the air seems so fresh and clean and the sun is shining through the trees as they bend in the breeze.
Whichever is your preference, walking in nature is good for the brain, and can change your moods from low to high, cleanse your negative thoughts and set you up for a productive and enjoyable day.
The outdoors and even the wilderness, are being regarded as ‘nature’s hospital’. There is no doubt that nature is restorative, and that walking in the fresh air, rain or snow will flick the reset button in your brain, allowing us to think as little or as much as we want to.
Walking in Nature Beats Urban Walking
A vast array of physical and chemical changes take place in your body and brain when walking outdoors. There is a large difference between nature walks and urban walks. As researcher Adam Atler explains, man-made landscapes will stimulate your brain, but not replenish exhausted mental resources, whilst open natural green spaces will allow far more mental health benefits, by allowing the brain the restorative process that it needs to function correctly.
In June 2011, The Guardian newspaper reported on the effects of city living on the brain and how those living in urban locations showed a 21% higher risk of suffering from anxiety disorders. Further reports in locations such as New York and even South Korea, reach the same conclusions, thereby making a strong case for urban planners to include more parks and open spaces in their cities.
Green is a colour that predominantly affects our thinking process and studies show that those living in areas with a high amount of green space capabilities had lower levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol is the hormone that ignites many other mental disorders on the back of stress and can be debilitating, to say the least. You can more or less kick stress into touch, with regular walking and embracing all that nature has to offer, without resulting to pills or other chemicals.
Changes take place in the parts of the brain that have a direct effect on both the thinking process and the memory of each individual when taking a walk or light exercise and taking in the surrounding natural environment. The parts of the brain that control these processes are the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, as explained by Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist and teacher at Harvard Medical School. “Even more exciting is finding that engaging in a programme of regular and moderate intensity over a period of 6 months to a year is associated with an increase in volume of selected brain regions.”
Benefits of Fresh Air
Scientific research shows that fresh air is good for you, but do we know why? Walking in nature and taking in your surroundings has both physical and mental health benefits:
- Physical – free radicals in highly polluted areas are the cause of many life threatening diseases, including brain and nerve damage, lung damage, cancer, birth defects and many other lifestyle problems. Love your trees – they remove pollution from the air, providing huge benefits to our respiratory systems. Breathing in fresh air on your nature walk lowers the chances of contracting diseases from pollutants in the atmosphere. Good health and a strong immune system will give you confidence to face any mental challenges.
- Mental – your brain will automatically react to your surroundings, which can be a good or bad thing if your brain is too cluttered with day to day problems. Walking in nature in the fresh air declutters the mind and allows you a fresh thinking process.
Walking Clears the Mind
With the hectic lives that most people experience in this fast-paced world, it is difficult to get ‘time to think’,let alone soak in the pleasures that nature brings.
Scientists believe that the brain has somewhere in the region of 2,500 – 3,300 thoughts in one hour per day! The thought process is active throughout the entire 24 hours of the day, so no wonder that our brains become tired and confused! And in the worst scenario, depression, stress and anxiety set in.
Restlessness, bad sleep patterns and the ability to cope are the knock on effects of brain fatigue, when everything appears to get on top of you – you hit the danger zone. Energy levels decrease, and you may even find it hard to get up in the morning. Your immune system could hit an all time low, making you susceptible to picking up illnesses.
Getting back to nature is the purest and simplest form of combating all of these perils. Undoubtedly, stress plays a major destructive effect on your brain capabilities. Walking in nature is one of the best ways to relieve stress and update your mental space to its full capacity.
Other Health Benefits of Walking
As you are well aware there are many benefits to walking other than for the mind.
Get Up And Walk
Ultimately, and under normal circumstances, your brain is somewhat ‘in your own hands’ and with little effort of walking in nature, breathing in fresh air and listening to the natural sounds in your clean environment, your mood and ability to concentrate and make decisions will definitely improve. Take in the aromas around you – plants and trees emit wonderful and soothing smells and science shows that these will lower anxiety and improve your mood and state of mind. Think pine trees and their evocative smell, wild roses and the scent of freshly mown grass, which all increase your ability to relax and be happy in the nature that surrounds you.
Make Sure You Walk in Nature As Much as you can
Even the most sedentary-paced walk in the park, or down by the river will reap huge benefits. Get moving and absorbing nature, as opposed to sitting on the sofa with a takeaway and watching TV. If you are office bound 8 hours a day, get up and walk round a leafy area close by your building, or sit in the park with your lunch. Every encounter with nature does count.