Walking in Nature Improves Health and Longevity

Did You Know…that walking in the woods doesn’t just feel good—it can dramatically improve your health and may even protect against cancer?

Americans have become alarmingly sedentary.  American children spend as little as 30 minutes a day playing outdoors and as much as 7 hours a day staring at an electronic screen.  According to a 2008 study, adult Americans spend 25% less time in nature than they did two decades ago… and another study indicates that two-thirds of Americans spend more than two hours a day in front of the television.

 It’s time to get moving, because too much sitting can kill!

A 13-year study published by the American Cancer Society indicated that women who sat for more than six hours a day had a 37% greater chance of dying than did women who sat for fewer than three hours a day, while men who sat the most had an 18% greater risk.

The good news is that walking… especially in nature… can vastly improve your longevity and health, and it may even protect you from cancer.

Melt Away Stress

Stress is one of the primary instigators of chronic disease. Unmanaged stress envelops the body in psychological and physical distress and contributes over the long-term to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

After a day spent tightly wound, hunched over a computer and with a thousand stressors on your mind, you could use a refreshing walk to release the physical and mental kinks. A cascade of stress hormones has been pulsing through your body all day, and a walk provides the perfect opportunity to check in with your thoughts, breathe in the fresh air, and reduce stress hormones. A walk in any environment is helpful, but a stroll through nature is the best way to manage stress, improve immunity, and sanctify your health. Walking in nature has been proven to increase white blood cells and lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

Forest Therapy 

Japanese researchers have proven significant benefits with a healing modality called “forest therapy.”  They’ve shown that therapeutic time spent in a wooded setting realigns your body’s hormonal and cellular responses.  One study showed that individuals who merely looked at a peaceful forest setting for 20 minutes experienced an average drop of 13.4% in salivary cortisol, a marker for stress.  Subjects also benefitted from a lower pulse rate and blood pressure.

There’s a scientific explanation for the health benefits of forests in particular.  It starts with phytoncides, a chemical that plants release in order to protect themselves from rotting and invasive pests.  Breathing in these vapors activates our immune system’s “natural killer” (NK) cells.  These NK cells are potent lymphocytes that ward off infection and suppress cancer growth.  People who participated in a series of three-day trips to the forest (which included daily walks) exhibited a 50% increase in NK activity and a substantial elevation in the number of NK cells.  These benefits didn’t disappear once subjects left the forest, but subsisted for up to a month!

The Power of Ions 

All natural environments—forests, oceans, mountains—teem with negative ions that energize the body on a cellular level.  Negative ions boost the flow of oxygen to the brain, increase alertness, and decrease lethargy.  When we are out of balance and depleted of negative ions, our bodies respond with fatigue … bone loss … compromised sleep … overactive adrenal glands … anxiety … depression … chronic inflammation … and reduced cardiovascular and brain function.

Give your body the healthy dose of negative ions it needs by walking in nature daily or weekly.  You can even amplify your benefits by walking barefoot on conductive surfaces such as grass, sand, or dirt.  This practice, called ground therapy (or earthing), has been revealed to lower inflammation … improve blood viscosity … manage physical pain and emotional disturbances … enhance sleep … and lower cortisol levels.