Walk for heath – the healing effects of forest bathing

 Hipocrates: “Walking is the best medicine”

A few days ago I watched a video about the importance of walking for health. It was fascinating to hear a concise account of the good reasons for a walk every day.

The benefits of a 30 minute daily walk:

  • improved heart health – due to increased activity as it pumps in response to exertion.
  • circulates oxygen rich blood into all of the tissues, the benefit of which is they are kept younger
  • removes metabolic waste through benefiting the lymphatic system, which runs near blood vessels and carries the immune system and removes waste matter from tissues
  • can boost metabolism for 12 hours after walking, helping to loose weight when combined with a healthy diet
  • strengthens bones
  • improves memory and attention – research shows a 20% increase in retention after a walk in nature
  • helps cut the blood sugar spike after eating – we are designed to walk after eating. Walking activates glucose receptors in the leg muscles, which can lead to up to a 40% decree of blood sugar levels after a meal. Ideally take a 20 minute walk after ever meal, or after your main meal.
  • a small 2015 study found that people who walked for 90 minutes outside were less likely to ruminate on their problems and had less activity in the brain area linked to depression, compared to people who took similar walks but in urban areas
When is the best time to walk?
  • to gain the main benefit of decreasing blood sugar levels walk after a meal
  • if you can walk in the morning to get morning sunlight and boost your circadian rhythm. This is what regulates sleep so getting exposed to sunlight in the morning will improve your sleep at night

 

Forest bathing:

Combining waking with a visit to a forest adds an extra benefit to the experience. I live near some woods so for the last few days have cycled to the woods then had a walk. In Japanese there’s a practice called shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” Thus shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. Rather than a brisk hike forest bathing is a leisurely stroll, taking time to enjoy the experience through all of your senses – pausing to take in the sounds, smells and sights, feeling the roughness of a tree trunk or the softness of leaves, tasting the air as you take a few breaths in through your mouth.

Trees release phytoncides, chemicals the trees use to protect themselves from harmful insects and germs. When breathed in these can increase the number of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, a common marker of disease. In one study, researchers found that people who took a long walk through a forest for two days in a row increased their natural killer cells by 50% and the activity of these cells by 56%. Those activity levels also remained 23% higher than usual for the month following those walks.

In researching this I also found some support for my experience of enjoying working out outdoors more than in a gym. A review of research found that people who exercised outside reported feeling more revitalized, engaged and energized than those who did it indoors. The researchers also found that people who exercised outside felt less tension, anger and depression.

Spending at least 120 minutes a week outside in nature has also been linked to reducing cortisol levels – the stress hormone.

This weekend see what it’s like to go for a walk in your local park, or if you have a wilder area with some trees enjoy exploring that.

 

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