In many of our workshops and webinars, we talk about a variety of ways to reduce stress and improve mental health – including exercise.
One of the simplest and most effective forms of exercise is walking. Aristotle even taught while he walked and made the outdoors his classroom. The benefits of walking in nature date back to antiquity. Not surprisingly, recent research backs up what we have known for centuries.
Have you heard of Shinrin-yoku? It’s a Japanese practice that translates as “forest bathing” – it is the act of walking in nature to relax and manage stress. It is a practice observed by about a quarter of the country and has become a recognized relaxation and stress management activity in Japan.
Studies show that “forest bathers” see significant increases in positive feelings and decreases in negative feelings.
One study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and reported in the Ecopsychology Journal, found that group nature walks are associated with a whole host of mental health benefits. These include decreased depression, improved well-being and mental health, and lower perceived stress. And the positive effects on mood seemed to be especially strong among people who had recently experienced a traumatic life event like a serious illness, death of a loved one, or divorce.
Getting active releases feel-good endorphins into the bloodstream and reduces stress and anxiety. Studies have shown regular, moderate-intensity exercise like brisk walking to be as effective as antidepressants in cases of mild to moderate depression. And when you make it a social activity by walking with a friend or in a group, it is a great way to feel less isolated and lonely. Walking is a low-risk and accessible form of exercise and it’s free. It turns out that when exercise is combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster.
The act of walking and putting yourself in the present moment can reset your mood, improve creativity and productivity, and release stress. Walking through green spaces can put the brain into a meditative state, allowing you to pay attention to the world around you, while creating the calmness needed for reflection. How many of us have solved problems that seemed insurmountable while out on a walk in nature?
So take a walk in the park:
- Find a local walking group
- Call a friend for a walk and talk
- Enjoy the scenery; notice what’s around you
- Breath in the fresh air
- Reset your mood!
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