Meditative Walks

Hippocrates said that walking is the best medicine for humans.

Personally I agree, walking in nature always helps me very much when I feel stressed, nervous or depressed. Now science has proved that it is real.

When we feel an avalanche of negative emotions, we know that it can be useful to “distance ourselves”. According to a new study, there is evidence to back up this stress relief strategy.

The study, carried out by researchers of the Michigan University, has revealed that going on group walks in nature is associated with many benefits for mental health, including a reduction of depression, an increase of wellbeing and mental health and a reduction of perceived stress.

The positive effects on our mood appear to be especially strong amongst people who have recently experienced a traumatic event in their lives, like a serious illness, death of a loved one or divorce.

The study, published on the Journal Ecopsychology, included 1.991 people who were part of England’s Walking For Health program, that organizes over 3.000 walks each week. Researchers compared the people who participated with those who didn’t participate in the group walks in nature.

As well as promoting mental health, the nature group walks also “seem to mitigate effects of life’s stressful events on perceived stress and negative affect, while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being”, the researchers wrote in the study abstract.

The new findings join a growing body of research demonstrating the numerous physical and mental health benefits of walking. Walking daily could lead to improved cardiovascular health, reduced stress, improved mood and self-esteem, healthy weight, strengthened bones and boosts in creative thinking.

According to Dr Mike Evans, Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Publica Health at the Toronto University in his online lecture “23.5 Hours,” walking not only improves quality of life, it is an excellent treatment for fatigue. Walking will also keep other physical ailments at bay.

Walking outside, in nature, may be particularly beneficial for our well-being: a 2013 British study discovered that simply walking in green spaces may put the brain into a state of meditation. And jogging outdoors makes people 50 percent happier than when they are working out in a gym, according to another study.

New research from scientists at Heriot-Watt University in the U.K. conducted mobile brain electrical activity testing on volunteers to find that the brain enters into a meditative state when going through green spaces.

Researchers found that feelings of meditation were higher when the study participants were going through green space. 

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. It is not clear exactly why outdoor excursions have such a positive mental effect. Yet, in a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of people after walking for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active when we have repetitive thoughts focused on negative emotions.

Digging a bit deeper, it seems that interacting with natural spaces offers other therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can reduce blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight or flight response.

A study conducted in the U.K., “What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for improving Mental Health? A multi-study Analysis”, has found that regular exercise in natural settings helps to immprove mood and self-esteem. Thus, nature walks can reduce anxiety, depression and negativity.

Forest Bathing:

“In Japan people practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest”, and yoku means “bath”. So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It’s simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.

Even a small amount of time in nature can have an impact on our health. A two-hour forest bath will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and de-stress and relax you.” Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.