I wouldn’t describe myself as “outdoorsy,” but walking in nature has a positive effect on me. I go for daily walks with the dog but I’ve noticed there is a big difference in how I feel during and after a walk, if it’s in a natural setting. Walking along the street in my neighbourhood or going to our local park is fine, but it doesn’t compare with how I feel after walking along a trail without a car or house in sight. Why does it make a difference where I walk?
Nature Versus Urban Walking
According to a study quoted in Medical News Today* walking for one hour in nature lowers your stress but when you walk for the same time in an urban setting, your stress remains the same. That doesn’t mean that walking around the neighbourhood isn’t beneficial for me. It’s still exercise. But the mental health benefits are far greater on a nature walk because it offers a decrease in negative thoughts, and increase in brain functioning and a lowering of the stress hormone cortisol.** Nature walks have all the added mental health benefits that urban walks don’t offer. In Japan, this practice is called Forest Bathing and it has become a popular idea around the world.****
Alone In Nature Is The Optimal Walking Experience
After noticing the difference in nature versus urban walks, I’ve tried to include regular nature walking as part of my week. Sometimes I take the dog and go with someone else, and sometimes I walk by myself. We explore different trails, gardens, paths and ravines in our city. But it’s even a different experience walking alone versus walking with others. Alone, walking is more restorative and gives me a chance to experience the trees, listen for the birds and look closely at what’s around me without any distractions. Others describe walking alone as meditative and list a host of benefits.*** Since I’ve noticed these advantages, I try to include solo nature walks when I can, to benefit from the power of trees.