In Defence of Nature Walks
I know what you’re thinking: “why do you need to ‘defend’ nature walks?” Really though, when was the last time you actually truly went out and appreciated the trees and the animals and the fresh air? If I asked you, right now, to go on a nature-walk with me you’d probably say: “hey, how’d you get into my house?” then, “no, who even goes for nature walks anyway?”
Healthy people, that’s who!
Aside from the obvious physical health benefits of walking, researchers have been discovering many important ways that being in nature promotes improved immunological and psychological well-being.
You’d be surprised what 20 minutes can do
Researchers at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that a 20-minute walk through a green space improves circulation in the brain. Increased circulation allows the neurons to receive the oxygen and nutrients needed to speed up metabolism. In other words, you’ll be able to think better, faster, and more efficiently! Researchers at the university also found that a couple hours among the trees can allow your body’s immune system to produce more white blood cells, including “killer” T-cells; these are awesomely named cells that mercilessly attack and remove infections from your body. The researchers found that not only did patients’ bodies create more of these cells, but they were actually functional for a longer period of time.
At Toronto’s Baycrest Rotman Research Institute, patients suffering from depression and anxiety showed marked improvements in mood and memory after walking through green spaces. The researchers were not sure what exactly caused the positive results, but they hypothesize that the experiences—sounds, scents, sights, and so on—of being in nature stimulate and revitalize the unconscious mind, which is partially responsible (depending on the psychological theories you subscribe to) for many mood disorders. As if this weren’t enough, researchers have also found that some chemicals secreted by plants, called phytoncides, may have further benefits for human health. The chemicals, which are secreted by plants to protect them from bacterial and fungal infections, are linked to reduced stress hormones, decreased anxiety, increased pain threshold, and even improved antioxidant function in humans; all of which correspond to a significantly reduced cancer risk.
A hero’s walk
Best of all, you can reap all the benefits above, regardless of whether you actually like being out side or not. Studies showed similar mental health benefits in January as they did in July. I remember once, during my short-lived science teaching career in Sweden, forcing my classes to walk through the woods one cold rainy November morning. They hated me at the time, but I can sleep well knowing that I may have saved their lives. I’m a hero, and you can be, too! Grab a friend or family member, find a park or any place with some trees, and go for a walk!