Walking in Nature

‘We’ve grown apart from nature but need to be A part OF nature.’

David Attenborough’s witness statement, A Life on Our Planet, just launched on Netflix and is wake-up call to all of us.  This got me thinking about walking in nature.

I’ve always enjoyed walking.  We had years of going on mega-walks across London with Clio, our Rhodesian Ridgeback.  I remember our first married Christmas in Paris and I forced my husband to walk everywhere despite the freezing temperatures (and it was really FREEZING!).  There is something that feels good about the fresh air, seeing my surroundings and, truth be told, the physical exercise.  Of course, the benefits of this simple movement of walking has been proven.  It helps improve circulation, strengthens muscles, shores up bones, supports the joints and can aid in losing weight.*

Unfortunately, it’s the nature part that is a bit more effort for city dwellers like me.  Fortunately, we found a forest about 20 minutes away by car that provides space to walk amongst trees – and lots of them.  I’m always amazed at how much better I feel when I walk in the great outdoors.  We aren’t doing anything different.  We walk.  We talk.  We look around.  The boys climb.  We have a sense of freedom in the forest that I don’t feel when I’m street walking.  Also, we connect with Mother Earth, even when we aren’t conscious of it.

The data shows the benefits are heightened when walking in nature versus city or street walking.   Similar to the findings around meditation, nature walks lower blood pressure, boost immune system and improve mood.  The University of Michigan has data showing that a 20 minute walk in nature significantly lowers the stress hormone cortisol.  The Psychological Science journal also showed that nature walks improve short term memory by 20%.  The most interesting data for me relates to fractal patterns.  Richard Taylor, in the US, found that the dimensions of repeating shapes in nature has been found to impact the brain and enhance feelings of well-being.

Why is this?  Simply, nature allows us to feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.  We feel more A PART of the world around us.

Unfortunately, as David Attenborough so dramatically shows in the film, the wilderness is depleting.  There is less than 40% wild land left globally.  This has impacted biodiversity and climate change.  Ultimately, it will impact the human race.  We all need to look at what we can do to improve our personal impact and help the earth rewild.  Such a poignant and clear message to waste less of everything, including time! 

Practical Recommendations

Choose walking wherever possible.  The health benefits prove it’s worthwhile, as well as better for the environment.

Find a forest and try the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing, known as shinrin-yoku.  Walk slowly amongst the trees in a meditative state.  Breathe slower and deeper.  Absorb the surroundings.  Connect with nature.  If you’re in England visit Forestry England for your nearest forest.  

Make a small contribution to a charity.  Here is a link with the top suggestions.

*Arthritis Foundation