9.1 million adults in England walk recreationally. It’s more popular than swimming, cycling and going to the gym. So what’s the pull? Is it mysterious or something more distinguishable?
We’ve done some digging to give you the facts behind why outdoor activity is so enjoyable and how it can dramatically improve your physical and mental health. So even if you’re not mad about hiking, these benefits alone will persuade you to swap your desk for a day walking with us on Freshwalks. Freshwalks is a networking event with a difference, set with a backdrop of the beautiful English countryside.
Nature: A Natural Stress Buster
12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017. An excessive workload, bullying or a lack of support are obvious contributors towards this staggering figure. Do unpleasant environments belong on that list too?
We spend a lot of time at work. For many, that means existing in an urban office environment. While some offices in the city are pleasant to work in, many lack natural light, fresh air or have visual appeal. How does this make us feel? The Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim recently studied the brain activity of healthy city and rural dwellers to give us some insight:
“In a series of functional magnetic resonance experiments […[ they showed that city living was associated with greater stress responses in the amygdala, an area of the brain involved with emotional regulation and mood.”
Basically, our time spent in an office environment makes us vulnerable to increased levels of stress which is bad for your health. Nature can reverse these ill-effects – a natural environment can:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Slow down your heart rate
- Relieve muscle tension
- Strengthen your immune system
The Positive Psychology Program says nature has this effect because we are biologically programmed that way:
“The food and water that exists all around us has always helped humanity to survive, so it is adaptive to perceive these things as beautiful and enjoy being around them.”The University of Minnesota also suggests that we find nature “inherently interesting”. Because we focus on it easily nature can distract us from stressful thoughts and help us live in the present.And in a study where elderly hospital patients had either a forest or a car park view from their room, parasympathetic nervous activity (which reduces heart rate and relaxes muscles) was greater in the patients looking out onto nature.
All this evidence suggests that being surrounded by nature can make us relaxed and less anxious. But can it also make you joyful?
Beautiful Places: A Happier You
Catch the feel-good bug called serotonin and relish being in a fantastic mood. Nature will give you this brain chemical without demanding anything in return (which is why taking care of the environment is important).
When you’re outside you are exposed to the generous bacterium, Mycobacterium which enables a higher release of serotonin. This is probably why a lot of us feel fantastic after a Freshwalk.
In their experiment 30 Days Wild, The Wildlife Trust also demonstrated how nature improves our well-being. In 2016, thousands of people lived wildly in random ways for a month – some let their lawns overgrow, danced in the rain and became sky gazers. The study revealed that:
“Taking part in 30 Days Wild makes people happier, healthier and more connected to nature in the long-term.”
This explains why Planet Earth is so popular: it seems that embracing nature really can make you happy.
Better for You Than the Gym?
We all know exercise makes us physically healthier which is why going to the gym is important for many. But if you decide to go walking, running or cycling outside instead (weather permitting) you might be getting a better deal.
Gyms provide efficient, straightforward ways to keep fit in an easygoing environment. In contrast, exercising outdoors is free, can be unpredictable and challenging: you’re hiking up hills, across rivers or over rocky paths. Especially on a hike with us, you don’t have leeway to quit. Turn around or move forward; you still have to keep moving.
Nature is beautiful, too, which often makes us forget we’re even exercising. Exercise psychologist, Ben Fletcher of PushDoctor.co.uk agrees:
“From appreciating your surroundings to taking care where you put your feet, you’re so focused on where you are that you pay less attention to how tired you are and so able to push yourself further.”
Your mental health can also be improved by exercising outside rather than going to the gym. As the Scottish Health Survey revealed during a test involving 2000 participants: “outdoor physical activity had a 50 percent greater positive effect on mental health than going to the gym.”
Calling Out All Nature Addicts
Are you eyeing your walking boots? Ready for a new adventure to reap the benefits of being outside? The best test you can do is on yourself.
Join us for a Freshwalk to see if being outdoors makes you feel calmer and happier. On offer is a gorgeous day hiking in the English wilderness, excellent company and the potential to make lifelong contacts. We can’t wait to welcome you into the Freshwalker family.