5 Surprising Benefits Of Forest Walks

Shinta Noorsyahbani

Content marketeer at Regreener

It seems like something so simple, so obvious; a nice forest stroll. Yet, what most people don’t know is that this actually benefits us in many different ways! One of these benefits is stress reduction.

Stress is a part of life, which at first hand doesn’t have to be perceived as something negative. Some studies suggest that stress can help motivate a search for something better or more. However, it’s prolonged stress that is the issue. Society has rapidly changed in the past 40 years, which has led to prolonged stress for many people. Fortunately there are ways to handle this problem. Research reveals that different environments can increase or reduce the amount of our stress.

Everything you see, hear or experience in each moment not only has an impact on your mood, but also on your nervous-, endocrine-, and immune systems. Try to remind yourself of this whenever you find yourself in an unpleasant environment for a longer period of time. A pleasant environment on the other hand can help with maintaining a better blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, which encourages a healthier immune system.

According to one study in the book Healing Gardens, researchers found that more than two-thirds of the individuals interviewed chose a natural setting to retreat to when stressed. Not only does nature/forests help in removing carbon from our atmosphere, it also has health benefits that leave significant impact on our wellbeing.

According to International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, walking as little as 15 minutes in nature can already improve one's mood and relieve stress and anxiety.

Forest bathing: what it is and why you should try it

Don’t worry, there is no actual bathing required! Forest bathing is a practice that encourages people to simply spend time in nature. It comes from the term shinrin-yoku, that was created by the Japanese ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982.

You don’t need your most expensive hiking shoes, even without a forest nearby you can do this exercise. Start with a simple walk through your local park if possible. The goal is to be present in this moment while immersing your senses in the sights and sounds of the natural setting.

We have already discussed some health benefits when it comes to nature. Here are 5 surprising benefits that you can get from daily woodland strolls:

 

1. Creativity is sparked

 

Living with ever-present technology that is designed to constantly pull our attention can lead to mental fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and burnouts. Scientists believe that being in nature restores depleted attention circuits, which can help us be more open to creativity and problem solving.

According to a study done by Strayer and other researchers, backpackers scored 50 percent higher on a creativity test after spending four days in nature, disconnected from electronic devices. This study provides an understanding in our interaction with nature, that also has measurable benefits to creative problem-solving.

“If you’ve been using your brain to multitask — Like many of us do most of the day — and then you set all the gadgets aside to go for a walk, you’ve let the prefrontal cortex recover,” says Strayer. “And that’s when we see these bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of well-being.”

Another study conducted by Peter Aspinall and colleagues at Heriot-Watt University, showed that participants indicated lower frustration-, engagement-, and arousal levels and higher meditation levels while they were in green areas. Lower engagement and arousal levels may be caused by the process of attention restoration in the brain, which encourages a more open, and meditative mindset.

 

2. Forest walking may have antidepressant effects

 

Unsurprisingly, associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being amongst children and adolescents have been made. A population-based study has confirmed that high screen users between 14- to 17-years-olds, were more than twice as likely to ever have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or have taken medication for a psychological or behavioural issue in the last 12 months.

One of the most common treatments for depression and anxiety that have been proven to improve symptoms are pharmacotherapies, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. However, there are many secondary effects such as insomnia, headaches, nausea, jitteriness, restlessness, and more.

Forest bathing, also known as “Forest therapy”, is a collection of activities to improve human health or welfare in a forest environment. Some of the psychological benefits of forest therapy are:

- Improving immune function by enhancing the activity of natural killer cells

- Lowering the cortisol concentration, of which is the stress hormone

- Balancing the autonomic nervous system

Forest bathing also has psychological benefits, such as: reducing psychological stress or mental fatigue, inducing positive emotions, and decreasing anxiety. Walking through a forest can be helpful as it combines mindfulness in nature with exercise, both of which are known to reduce depressive symptoms.

 

3. Decreased risk of myopia

 

According to different studies, high levels of screen time from smart devices are associated with a 30% increased risk of Myopia. However, when this is combined with excessive computer use, that risk rose to around 80%. Myopia is a vision condition in which you can see objects near to you clearly, but where objects farther away seem to be blurry.

Time increased outdoors was found to have a protective effect for the onset of myopia, meaning that it can help prevent the condition. Spending time outside for approximately 76 minutes a day is needed to obtain a 50% reduction in myopia in children, study showed.

How? You may ask. Here are a couple of reasons why spending time outdoors can benefit your eyes:

- When sunlight touches the retina, it causes the release of dopamine into the eye. This can prevent the eye from elongating. Preventing the eye from growing too long is the main goal of myopia management.

- It encourages the eyes to focus on distant objects.

- Your eyes receive vitamin D, which helps to smooth muscle tissue around the eye’s crystalline lens, allowing it to function properly.

Woodland walks can also improve observational skills. It helps you pay attention to your natural surroundings. You may even come across rare plants and animals when you take time to be still and listen.

 

4. Live a longer life

 

CNBC published an article last year, reporting the findings of researchers investigating the secrets to a longer, happier and healthier life. One of the outcomes was gardening. Researchers concluded that exercise in nature helps to add years to your life.

As mentioned previously, walking in nature can provide:

- Increased parasympathetic nervous activity (important in quiet “rest and digest” conditions).

- Decreased sympathetic nervous activity (Drives the “fight or flight” response in stressful situations).

- More comfortable/relaxed/natural feelings which ultimately improves the mood state.

- Lowering the heart rate.

In conclusion, forests walks can induce physiological and psychological relaxation.

Those who are happier, less stressed, and more social often live healthier and longer lives. According to International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, walking as little as 15 minutes in nature can already improve one's mood and relieve stress and anxiety. Therefore, forest walking can improve the overall mental and physical health.

 

5. Enjoy better sleep

 

Lastly, being in nature can help with resetting our internal clocks into a better, more natural sleep cycle. According to Kenneth Wright, researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, it is possible for people’s internal clocks to be delayed by 2 hours in the modern world. This isn’t a good thing, as bad sleep cycles often relate to health problems.

Kenneth performed a camping research back in 2013. To understand how internal clocks changed without electronic devices and only natural light, he sent people on a week-long camping trip. In this way, he could measure their melatonin hormone, which helps set up your internal clock and informs you when it’s time for bed, before and after the trip.

Try to bring along friends when going on walks. One of the social benefits of walking with another person is that it can act as a mood booster. This can also have a positive impact on your sleep cycle. A couple of benefits that you can get from good sleep:

- Improved immune system

- Helps maintaining a stable weight

- Helps repairing and rejuvenating your body

- Increased sex drive

- Less likely to get diabetes

- Improved mood

According to WWF, forests can reduce risks associated with some major noncommunicable diseases.

Nature deprivation is a term used when you lack time in the natural world. Usually, this is caused by hours spent in front of our TV’s and computer screens and is associated, unsurprisingly, with depression. An example of more unexpected studies are done by Weinstein and others that associate screen time with loss of empathy and kindness.

 

Our favourite walking routes

 

Job – Co-Founder

“My favourite walk is from Oostkapelle to Domburg (and back). I’ll walk to Domburg over the beach. Once I arrive in Domburg I get a cup of coffee. After that, I’ll walk back from Domburg to Oostkapelle through the forest (Manteling van Walcheren) that is directly next to the beach and the dunes.”

Shinta – Online Marketing Intern

“I think my favourite forest walk is through the Hague Forest. I grew up in The Hague and whenever I craved some stillness I would come there to enjoy the nature. Often times I would go with my friends to talk about life and how we’re feeling at that time. It is nice to be able to blow off steam in such peaceful environment, especially when you live in a busy city.”

Flo – Marketing Manager

“My favorite forest must be ‘Corversbos’ in Hilversum. It’s not very big or particularly famous, but for me it’s the ultimate place to be when I need to quiet my mind. There is a big open field in the middle, which looks different every time I walk over it. It changes beautifully throughout the seasons and the sunrises and -sets are breath taking.”

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