5 powerful benefits of walking mindfully in nature
Yesterday, I had an epiphany. After a long day of work, I went walking in nature. I spent a few hours enjoying the view and listening to the chirping birds. As I was amid these natural wonders, I began thinking about the incredible health benefits and therapeutic power of having a short walk in nature.
During my journey, I took photos of the sea, admired the tall trees, and noticed the subtle changes in the water. I felt relaxed and in awe, and as I came back, I realised I had to share this experience with our readers!
Ok, maybe it was not a novel realisation. Many people are aware of the benefits of walking in nature. In Japan, they call it forest bathing or forest therapy (shinrin yoku). They describe it as the mindful practice of walking through any natural place and letting your senses absorb everything. And they call it therapeutic for a reason; it revitalises us both mentally and physically.
5 proven benefits of nature walks
Walking in nature has been found to have positive effects on healthy people and those that struggle with mental health disorders. If you struggle with burnout, anxiety, depression, or anything else, we strongly suggest you add “walking in nature” to your treatment plan. And, if you are not yet convinced, here are some proven benefits of walking in nature.
1. Physical health benefits
Walking in nature can have surprisingly positive effects on our body. Naturally, being active and stretching our legs is beneficial in and of itself. But there are other physical benefits that might be less obvious.
When we go out for a walk in nature, what happens in our body is that our blood pressure decreases. This means that we feel a little calmer. Our stress hormones, such as cortisol, are lowered, and our breathing becomes more relaxed. Therefore, walking in nature at least once a week can help us improve our heart condition and prevent us from developing many illnesses such as heart disease and postural syndromes.
2. Changes in your brain and cognition
One lesser-known fact about walking in nature is that it can affect and change our brains and cognition. Cognition refers to mental processes such as memory and attention. And, indeed, it has been found that walking in nature can significantly help our short-term memory.
When we are walking, we focus on what is happening at the present moment; we start soaking everything in and actively try to remember what we are seeing and sensing. This inevitably helps our memory as we train our brain to retain immediate information better.
Improving our short-term memory can be very helpful for our everyday lives and help us recover from the negative consequences of some mental disorders. For example, burnout and depression can cause loss of memory. By walking out in nature, we can help our brain restore that function.
Similarly, walking in nature can help us boost our attention. Many eye-opening studies have demonstrated this effect and how it can even help children that struggle with ADHD. Even a short walk of fifteen minutes in the park can significantly help.
3. Boosting your immune system
Another surprising benefit of walking in nature is the wonders it can do for our immune system. Walking outside can boost our immunity and help restore our cells. While walking, we can feel the rejuvenating effect in our body as we breathe in more oxygen and exhale all our troubles away.
Breathing fresh air not only feels pleasant but is a great way to boost our immune system. The fresh air can help us build a stronger response against viruses, colds and the flu. And who wouldn’t like to spend fewer days of the year sick in bed?
4. Becoming more mindful
Perhaps my favourite benefit from walking out in nature is that it can help you become more mindful. Becoming more mindful means living in the present moment - not in the past and not in the future. It means to observe everything we are sensing, without judgment.
When you are outside in nature, you cannot help but look around in awe and use all your senses. You listen to the birds chirping, observe the unique colours and smell the intoxicating scent of the blossoming flowers. This is what mindful walking is. You don’t need difficult meditation practices, just to focus on your senses. This is the best and easiest meditation practice you can try!
Mindful walking can also bring up feelings of awe for what is around you. You might ask yourself, “How did this happen?”, “How did this plant survive the winter, even though it has these fragile branches?” - you cannot help but notice what is around you and let it inspire you.
Going on frequent nature walks can help you foster mindfulness in your everyday life. It can help you become more grounded in the present moment instead of overthinking the past or what the future will bring. This is why mindfulness can help you overcome issues related to burnout, anxiety, and depression.
5. Fostering gratitude
The last benefit of walking in nature is related to an essential element for living a happy life; gratitude. When walking through nature, you begin to appreciate everything that is around you. You feel grateful to be where you are, to have the opportunity to experience all the wonders that surround you. Among all the grandiosity of nature, you gain perspective and understand that sometimes our troubles might not be as big as they seemed.
Going on walks in nature where you get to practice mindfulness and gratitude is something that your brain will thank you for, for the rest of the week. Even if you do it a few times a month, the energy that you will take from being in contact with nature, even for a couple of minutes or hours, is immense; it's life-changing.
Mindful walking tips & exercises
Perhaps you have gone walking in nature in the past and did not feel these wonderful benefits. Maybe you still felt distracted by your thoughts or did not feel grateful at all. This is why we have compiled a few tips that might help you get the best out of your walks in nature.
Five senses mindfulness exercise
There is a very simple mindfulness exercise that can help you enjoy the present moment and stop focusing on any thoughts clouding your mind. The Five Senses exercise goes like this:
- Notice five things that you can see
- Notice four things that you can hear
- Notice three things that you can feel
- Notice two things that you can smell
- Notice one thing that you can taste
You can change the order depending on your preferred senses; it will still work. Try to focus on little things, such as noticing the tiny ant that lost its trail, a small mushroom growing on tree bark, or a red bird bringing food to its nest. Just keep naming things you see, listen, smell, touch, feel or taste until you feel in the mindfulness state. You will certainly notice when you are in the state.
PRO TIP: This exercise can also help if you are experiencing a panic attack, so it is worth learning how to practice it.
As you are doing the five senses exercise, you can go and capture the beautiful details that you have observed in your surroundings in pictures. They will make a beautiful reminder of what you experienced and help you appreciate and savour the simple pleasures and beauty of life. After your walk, you can revisit the photographs and remember what you experienced and sensed. You can reflect if there are any underlying themes in the photographs you chose to take and write down what you learned from the whole experience.
The perfect recipe
Walking in nature has many proven benefits for our mental and physical wellbeing. It can help our physical body, but it can also improve our cognition, change our brain and help us foster important practices such as mindfulness and gratitude. All this together makes a perfect recipe for supporting us in our mental health journey.
We would love to know how often you go outside in nature and spend your time mindfully. Share with us if you have had different experiences with nature, if perhaps it does not help you, or it makes you feel restless or agitated.
If you liked this article, put on your shoes, your sandals or crocs and head out to the nearest nature area. Stay safe and until next time!