Nature walks have long been inspiration for our greatest minds. Mahatma Gandhi cited his solo treks as the source of his best ideas. Ditto for Albert Einstein, Ruth Stone, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Muir—the list of notable nature enthusiasts goes on ad infinitum. But what is it about the great outdoors that makes it so great? Couldn’t these men and women have just hit the treadmill for an hour to achieve the same results?
According to the latest scientific research, that’s a resounding no. Here are three reasons why nature time isn’t optional when it comes to your health.
Many people think it doesn’t matter where you walk, just so long as you walk. But a recent Stanford study shows otherwise. Researchers had one group of participants walk for 90 minutes through grassland peppered with shrubs and trees. The other group walked for the same duration, but alongside a well-trafficked interstate highway.
Though the physiological changes were similar in both groups, the neurological activity was markedly different. Neural activity in the brain region associated with rumination—habitual negative thinking—was decreased in the nature walkers, but not the city walkers.
Although researchers aren’t exactly sure why, nature is the best natural mood booster.
This research backs up a gloomy statistic: city dwellers are 20% likelier to develop schizophrenia and 40% likelier to have mood disorders compared to their bucolic counterparts. If you have a tendency towards anxiety or depression, nature walks could be your perfect preventative prescription.
Oxygen is the key ingredient to most life on earth. When our bodies have access to more of it, our detox organs function better. Our fat-burning potential increases dramatically. And our brains can perform at their peak. But, with levels of carbon dioxide rising in the atmosphere, oxygen is scarcer. The quality of air we breathe has continued to plummet since the industrial revolution.
The good news is that nature has a quick fix for us—flora.
Plants gobble up carbon dioxide as part of their respiration process. Add sunshine and water to the mix and the plants have all the energy they need. Plus, they even leave us a gift: pure, unfiltered oxygen. You won’t find that in the concrete jungle. Since oxygen is so important to your energy and clarity, start scheduling nature walks into your weekly schedule. Consider it an investment in your healthiest body and best ideas.
The past decade has brought grounding to the forefront of scientific examination. In nature, a constant circulation of negative ions (good for you despite their name) flows through organic matter, bringing it to the same electrical potential as the earth.
Recent research shows that people who experience headaches, heart palpitations, and dizziness are prime candidates for extended periods in nature.
The electron-enriched earth was shown to have a balancing affect on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which is responsible for mood, heart rate, and metabolism. The study indicated that the benefits of nature are immediate, and they last for as long as you remain in contact with your environment.
So, if you want fast results for your mind and body, don’t delay your trip to the great outdoors.
Modern life is tough. Our presence is demanded by our jobs and our families. Our attention is occupied by worry, and the growing list of thing we haven’t accomplished. Finding time to do good things for your body can seem like the bottom of your priorities.
But it’s not.
Your quality of life on earth depends on how well you take care of you. And, now that it’s clear how important nature is to your health, it’s time to make time in nature one of your top priorities. Make it a bonding activity with your friends and family. Or, go solo if you need time to reflect. However you decide, just do it.
In the words of John Muir:
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
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