A Simple Walk in the Woods

By Tara Howse

It’s time to step away from the treadmill and get outside!

You know exercise is beneficial for you: I don’t need to list all the benefits to you! Get up and move around more, right? I get it though, you’re busy. You’re entire household is coming down with a cold (and, woe to the households that are experiencing the man-flu!). Sniffles abound amongst office mates, maybe forcing you to take on a few extra hours at work.

Shall I mention the holiday season is upon us?

Stress is high, the weather is turning, and you’re doing everything you can to still try and get to the gym (how confident are you that person wiped that machine down?).

Maybe it’s time to give the gym a break and embrace the outdoors, even as we move into these cooler temperatures and wetter climates. Study by then University of Michigan doctoral-student, Marc Berman, found that a 50-minute nature walk improved cognitive ability by about 20%.

And the surprising twist in this study? Participants did not have to actually like the walk to get the benefits!

Scores still jumped as much when they were walking through a Michigan winter as they did in the summer, with the largest benefits seen when one is feeling most drained. Having a rough morning with a big presentation in the afternoon? Forget hitting the treadmill: throw on your raincoat and get outside for a lunch hour walk, instead.

Dr. Berman released another study last summer, once again, extolling all the benefits of nature and trees. In short, those who are living in an area with 10 or more trees in a city block have fewer cardio-metabolic conditions, the same health benefits as one would experience in a $10,000 personal income increase.

10 trees = $10,000.

forest shot looking up

The Japanese have known about the health benefits of nature for years and it became a part of their health program in 1982. Another study, in Japan, found a correlation between exposure to the forest and cancer prevention, yet another found the positive health benefits of spending a weekend in the wood netted that benefit for a month.

The reason? You know that “fresh air” feeling you get when in a forest? It’s due to essential oils (called phytoncide) that actually improve your immune system.

Are you feeling a bit amped coming home to a complete disaster of a house with your in-laws on their way over for a visit? Forget the dishes for now and put on your boots.

Go for a walk or a hike: a simple 30-minute visit to the forest can “…lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity.”

What is the takeaway to all of this? It’s pretty simple: get outside more!

You don’t even need it to be “hardcore” to reap massive physical, emotional, and mental health benefits. Cross “go to gym” off your list, put on a pair of comfortable shoes, and go find some trees.

Tara HowseTara Howse is a lover of all outdoor activities and does whatever she can to get outside. A home-based consultant living in British Columbia, she manipulates her schedule to maximize the time spent out in sunny days and fresh pow. She’s cycled Canada (2010), hiked the CANOL Heritage Trail (2014), and would have completed the PCT (2015) if giardia hadn’t forced her off. Sign up with Active Women at www.activewomen.ca, a blog dedicated to supporting, promoting, and inspiring women to be active outdoors, share your IG photos with #activewomencanada, and check out the Facebook page.