Health Benefits of Walking

Take a Walk

Everybody has their rituals for relaxation. There are various ways to calm the brain at the end of the day, and these rituals are important to your body’s ability to cope with stress and brain fatigue. Unfortunately, stress and fatigue have become regular occurrences in the modern world, and being able to unwind and clear your mind is essential to maintaining a productive and fulfilling life.  Brain fatigue can lead to distraction, poor memory, and a lack of concentration. To help with brain fatigue or stress some people read, some sit in a sauna, and others mix a drink at the end of the day, but one of the most beneficial practices for combating brain fatigue and recharging your battery is going for a walk in the woods.

Walking in the woods allows for less brain activity, and it rarely calls for direct mental attention. Although the brain is still engaged while in nature it tends to be involuntary, and therefore not stressful on the mind. Walking through the woods gives the mind time to think and contemplate passing thoughts and not the pressing issues that can be found in daily life.  The Japanese call this shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Shinrin-Yoku has become an important aspect of preventative medicine in Japan, and the idea is that calmly walking through nature and taking in the surroundings can help to restore energy and promote overall health. Forest bathing can also be the perfect chance to spend time with a loved one in a relaxed atmosphere. Unwinding at the end of the day and finding tranquility can have positive effects on just about any relationship. Spending time in the woods also provides time for other relaxing activities. You can bring a book with you and find a quiet spot under a tree, or bring a note pad and write down your thoughts at the end of the day, and finding a woodsy area near a stream can offer an opportunity for some relaxing trout fishing.

WalkingThe benefits of forest bathing extend throughout the physical and mental arenas. It is physically beneficial, because it is exercise. Although shinrin yoku is generally slow in pace it is still exercise and keeps the body moving. It can help to promote a healthy heart rate, and it may also support healthy blood pressure levels. Taking a soothing walk also works to support proper cortisol levels, which can help with emotional health. When cortisol is released within the body it signals the feelings of stress, and this can lead to anxiety or poor emotional health. If cortisol levels remain high for long periods of time the negative side effects can start to harm the body a number of its biological functions. Forest bathing may also help to ease feelings of anger and depression, while also promoting emotional, mental, and physical vigor.

A recent study conducted at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University used portable electroencephalograms (EEGs) to see how walking through different spaces affected the brain. The EEGs were attached to the heads of twelve individuals and hidden with a hat. The subjects were then sent on a walk that spanned three very different atmospheres. The first part of the walk took the subjects through a historic section of Edinburgh which is known for its shopping. The second section was through a quiet park, and the third was through a busy urban center. After the walk researchers analyzed the brain readings recorded by the EEGs, and it was confirmed that walking through the second section, which most resembled nature, reduced brain activity. During the last section of the walk the subjects were the most mentally active, and long periods of this mental activity could be taxing on the mind and body and eventually lead to brain fatigue.

Walking through the woods, or shinrin-yoku as the Japanese call it, is a beneficial practice that is simple and easy for people of all backgrounds. Don’t let your busy life wear you down and deter your physical and mental function.  Just by taking the time to take a leisurely stroll through the woods can support your mental, emotional, and physical health.

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