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10 benefits a nature walk can have on your health

Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

A stroll through the woods is one of the best ways to really relax. And it can be so much more: several studies have revealed various positive effects of walking in the forest. Get ready to dive into some greenery with these 10 facts about the health benefits of a nature walk.

How Healthy Are Nature Walks?

A lot healthier than you probably thought. Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a study on the health effects of trees by planting 10 additional trees in an 8,000 square foot neighborhood. After a certain period of time, the people living in this area were as healthy on average as people who were 7 years younger[1].

If just ten trees can have such a positive impact, imagine the great effect of nature walks in an entire forest!

A person stands on a nature walk while a dog sits next to them. Only their silhouettes are visible. Many rays of light are beaming out from behind the tree they are gazing at.
©Brigitte Blättler

Deliberate movement as part of nature walks also activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of the autonomic nervous system that regulates your heartbeat, breathing, and digestion, among other things. It gets your metabolism going in a natural way and sets the whole system up for regeneration, a process that’s unfortunately neglected all to often in the chaotic environment of the (big) city.

That’s one of the reasons why “forest bathing” is an integral part of therapy concepts for both psychological ailments as well as cardiovascular and respiratory problems in Japan.

Nature walks start your recovery mode both physically and mentally. That means you’ll end up calmer and stronger than when you went outside. So forget memories of long, annoying Sunday outings with your parents and discover nature for yourself with our tips.

10 Gründe, warum Waldspaziergänge gesund sind

Sicher gibt es viel mehr als 10 Gründe für einen Waldspaziergang. Ein achtsamer Spaziergang im Wald ist immer ein magisches und individuelles Erlebnis. Dafür braucht es gar kein Warum. Trotzdem ist die positive Wirkung des Waldes enorm. Die folgen 10 Gesundheitsaspekte von Waldspaziergängen finden wir besonders interessant.

10 Reasons Why a Walk in the Forest Is Healthy

A mindful nature walk is always a magical and unique experience, and you don’t really need an excuse to do it. But the positive effects of the great outdoors are significant as well, and we think these 10 tips are particularly interesting.

#1 Forest air is healthy

Sure, that’s what your grandma always said. The thing is, she was right, because forest air is a balm for the respiratory tract. The further you go into nature and away from the city, the cleaner the air: there’s less fine particulate pollution, and more oxygen.[2]

The higher air quality in the forest improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lung capacity, while lowering your blood pressure and pulse.[3]

# 2 A nature walk improves the immune system.

Exercise in the fresh air is always good for strengthening your immune system. And nature walks in the woods are even better: The same researchers who planted the trees conducted further research and found that forest air can measurably increase the number of active immune cells in your body.[4]

A woman touches her hands together flat over her head while outdoors in the forest
©Westend61

This is because of the terpenes, substances a plant releases to protect itself from pests. The researchers divided their subjects into two groups. While one group slept in hotel rooms with terpene-enriched air, the control group slept with normal air. The next day, the number of active immune cells was higher for those participants in the rooms with the enriched air.

The researchers then hypothesized that two full days of forest air each month would have a positive effect on your immune system. By the way, the concentration of plant terpenes is highest in summer.

#3 Walking in the forest revs up your metabolism

Granted, this is true for any form of exercise. However, the higher oxygen content in forest air gives your metabolism a little extra boost. A nature walk also burns more calories than you think.

Scientists at the German Sport University Cologne found that a walk is just as effective as jogging for distances under 5 kilometers – simply because you take about twice as many steps. But be careful that your stroll doesn’t turn into a long workout, otherwise you’ll minimize the relaxation effect of your nature walk.

If you want to start jogging, it’s best to plan an extra session for it. Our article on how to start jogging has everything you need to know to add this cardio exercise to your schedule.

#4 A walk in the woods is quiet

At least most of the time. Birdsong can be pretty loud, and animals bounding through leaves can be noisy as well. These different sounds on long nature walks, however, come with a much lower decibel level than typical city noises. And they’re also more relaxing than sirens, horns, motors, and your neighbor’s playlist.

#5 A nature walk gives your eyes a break

It’s a break they deserve. How much time do you spend looking at your computer, tablet, smartphone, or e-book reader? And how often do you take a moment to let your gaze wander, allowing your eyes to perceive different textures and diverse colors like the fallen leaves? Or animals and plants in the distance?

This is the kind of workout your eyes need to be healthy and function in the long term. Nature walks train and regenerate your eyes at the same time. If you keep your devices in your pocket!

#6 A walk in the woods improves your focus

A smiling woman collects mushrooms during a nature walk
©Giacomo Augugliaro

Man-made stimuli are a constant part of everyday urban life. Either you have to focus on something specific, or tons of different things come at you from all sides with flashy colors, lights, and sounds.

In the forest, your senses perceive the complex structures of nature instead. According to the Attention Restoration Theory, this process helps your brain recover from mental fatigue so it can concentrate better afterwards.[5]

Add in an extra layer with a little mental training during your nature walk. Find something specific in nature, for example, certain herbs, plants, or leaves that you can take (depending on your area’s rules) and dry back at home.

This not only gives your brain a workout, it’s also fun and strengthens your connection to the natural world. But you also have to be careful: Only eat plants, mushrooms, or berries if you are 120% sure that you have identified them correctly.

Some Scandinavian researchers have found that even video recordings of forests led to students procrastinating less frequently on their homework.[6] That means that time in the woods is not only good for your health, but it can also make you more productive.

So if you need an extra justification to explore, just think of it as an investment in both greater productivity and a better work-life balance.

#7 A walk in the woods lowers stress hormones

Stress hormones are good when you need to perform under pressure. However, ongoing elevated cortisol levels have a negative impact on your health. Researchers found that nature walks reduce stress hormones and can help put you in a good mood.[7]  Your body releases both endorphins and the happiness hormone serotonin, making a walk more than worth the effort.

#8 A walk in the woods helps you be in the moment

A white woman wearing a felt hat looks to her side in front of a forest.
©Carlo107

While various things complete for your attention in an urban environment, in nature everything seems more harmonious. Various sounds coexist, the air is clear, and you may even be lucky enough to have the forest to yourself to explore.

Use your walk in the forest to focus on all of this at once. Feel the ground under your feet, the air on your skin and in your lungs, look at the natural world around you, and listen to the sounds. Being able to live fully in the present moment is a rare luxury. And it’s incredibly relaxing.

#9 A walk in the woods teaches you to look at the details

Many beautiful things are not particularly big or striking. The animals you hear, the berries you pick, the small blossoms along the path, or the deer hiding in the underbrush. If you take a moment to really look at the things around you, instead of being lost in your thoughts, you’ll see the natural world has a lot to offer. And you’ll learn to pay attention.

#10 Nature walks create connections

To nature, the world, and yourself. A trip out into the natural world is more than just a change of pace. Nature, like no other place, offers you an opportunity to slow down and feel like you’re part of the bigger picture.

Use this time to be with yourself, to feel how you feel. You don’t have to find solutions to your problems or answers to your questions, focus on using your nature walk to take a moment for an emotional check-in with yourself instead.

5 Tips for Your Walk in the Woods

A short-haired white woman sits on a yoga mat in the forest.
©Westend61

 

A walk in the forest doesn’t require much planning. A significant number of forests in the UK have well-marked hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. If you’re still unsure, download an offline map of your forest trail or bring a printed one. Here’s 5 more tips to make your walk outside even more enjoyable.

#1 Find your forest

Don’t have a forest right on your doorstep? Find a forest in the area – Forestry England is a good place to start – and turn a monthly nature excursion into a routine. Whether you’re alone, or in a small group of friends, a trip into nature is always a unique experience.

In the meantime, a local park is fine for regular walks. If you look closely around where you live, you’re sure to find at least some small local green spaces and beautiful trees.

#2 Turn your smartphone off

Or at least put it in flight mode. Make your eyes take a break from screens and focus on what you went to the forest for: nature. Allow yourself the luxury of a moment to yourself. To be completely in the here and now, without sharing it on social media, checking office mails, or planning your next get-together.

#3 Keep it simple

You don’t need anything for a nature walk except weather-appropriate clothing and water to drink. If you’re planning a longer hike, bring Paleo Bars or Nuts and Berries for some snacks on the go.

A package of Paleo Bars featuring all four mouthwatering flavors

Check out our healthy snacks

Dress in layers. In the forest, it’s usually a few degrees cooler in both summer and winter, while the humidity is slightly higher. Bring a small backpack for your water, snacks, and an extra hoodie.

Want to stay in the outdoors longer? Check out our tips, recipes, and ideas for a lavish picnic in nature.

#4 Let yourself wander.

To savor the positive effects of the forest air, you don’t have to worry about a minimum mileage, the best GPS tracker, a great step count, burning calories, or different anti-stress techniques. On the contrary. Just get outside and explore! Sitting around and looking at trees is just as good as a 22 km trek. Enjoy it!

#5 Leave only footprints

A white woman with a felt hat looks out at a mountain lake surrounded by forest
©Westend61

Finally, the most important thing: Do your part to help keep the forest healthy too. Forests are complex ecosystems that we should both enjoy and help protect, so it’s important to learn and follow forest etiquette. Make sure you know the rules about staying on the path in your area. Dogs must be kept on a leash – except in special marked areas. Fires are only rarely permitted and sometimes, when the leaves are dry, for example, there’s no smoking allowed either.

Cigarette butts and any trash – including organic waste for composting – belong in your backpack and should be disposed of properly back in civilization. Bring a small bag with you and take any and all (!) garbage out of the forest again.

Conclusion

  • Many studies show that nature and your health are intertwined.
  • Walking in the forest reduces symptoms of physical stress.
  • Regular trips out into nature can strengthen your immune system.
  • Nature walks support your mental and physical health.
  • Breathing in the forest is great for your respiratory system and boosts your metabolism as well.
Article sources
We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • [1] Arvay Clemens: Die Waldmedizin. In: Psychologie Heute Online: https://www.psychologie-heute.de/gesundheit/39317-die-waldmedizin.html (Stand 25.08.2020)

  • [2] https://www.sdw.de/waldwissen/oekosystem-wald/waldleistungen/index.html (Stand 25.08.2020)

  • [3] Ideno Y, Hayashi K, Abe Y, et al. Blood pressure-lowering effect of Shinrin-yoku (Forest bathing): a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017;17(1):409. Published 2017 Aug 16. doi:10.1186/s12906-017-1912-z

  • [4] Li Q, Morimoto K, Kobayashi M, et al. A forest bathing trip increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2008;22(1):45-55.

  • [5] Kaplan, Stephen: The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. In: Journal of Environmental Psychology Volume 15, Issue 3, September 1995, Pages 169-182.

  • [6] Bielinis, E.; Simkin, J.; Puttonen, P.; Tyrväinen, L. Effect of Viewing Video Representation of the Urban Environment and Forest Environment on Mood and Level of Procrastination. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17, 5109.

  • [7] Morita E, Fukuda S, Nagano J, et al. Psychological effects of forest environments on healthy adults: Shinrin-yoku (forest-air bathing, walking) as a possible method of stress reduction. Public Health. 2007;121(1):54-63. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2006.05.024

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