Walk Your Way To Health And Happiness

Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Philosophers and scientists from Aristotle to Einstein have known throughout history that walking in nature can boost creativity.

When we walk our heart rate increases, pumping blood and oxygen into our brains. The rhythm of our feet stimulates our minds. And because walking requires little mental energy, our thoughts are free to wander in new and creative ways.

Walking, and especially walking in nature, doesn't just stimulate our creativity. According to recent research, it also makes us healthier and happier.

Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University studied the effects of nature on stress. He organized two groups of volunteers. Eighty-four of them walked in nature and eighty-four of them walked in a city. After just a 15-minute walk, the nature walkers demonstrated lower levels of stress. Their blood pressure fell by 2 percent, their heart rate decreased by 4 percent, and their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, dropped by 16 percent. Miyazaki thinks that humans have evolved to be more relaxed in nature.

Stanford University Professor, Greg Bratman, is also researching the connection between walking in nature and health and happiness. He specifically focused on rumination, which is a cyclical focusing on negative thoughts. Most people have had the experience of getting into a negative funk. Whether we are worrying about the future or beating ourselves up over past mistakes, it isn't always easy to shake negative thoughts. According to Bratman's research, the antidote to these negative states could be simple.

Bratman sent 38 volunteers to walk in nature and another 38 volunteers to walk in a city. Before the walk, they filled out surveys about their emotional states. Bratman also scanned the volunteersbrains to measure blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with negative thinking. After returning from their walks, the nature-walking group reported fewer negative thoughts and their brain scans backed them up. Bratman believes that nature positively influences where we put our attention.

While most of us don't need science to tell us that nature is healing, perhaps it can nudge us to step away from our screens and spend more time outdoors.

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