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The Joy and Science of Walking in Nature

“Walking is a man’s best medicine” Hippocrates

Walking has it all. It’s simple, natural; it doesn’t require skills and has a low risk of injury. Most of us don't walk often though. Since physical inactivity has become the most important contributing factor to heart disease and chronic illnesses, including dementia, we need to start looking for simple, natural and enjoyable ways to improve our health.

How about a walk in nature?

If you love nature, you will probably like the research that I'm about to share. Numerous studies have been carried out throughout the years, showing nature's positive impact on both a physical and mental wellbeing.

Studies carried out at the Stanford University have illustrated the benefits of walking in the woods. The researchers asked student participants to fill out a simple happiness questionnaire and then split the students into two groups;

One group was asked to take a walk for 90 minutes in the urban traffic area; the second group, to walk in a woodland, a section of the university campus. As you may expect, the students walking in the woods were happier and more positive than those walking in heavy traffic.

The researchers investigated further. In the controlled experiment, they wanted to see whether walking in nature would influence so called rumination (a repetitive negative thinking process), a risk factor for depression and mental illness. After repeating the exercise it turned out that the students walking in a natural environment had lower levels of rumination and reduced neural activity in a subgenus prefrontal cortex of the brain (the area of our brain responsible for mental illness), compared with those who walked in the urban environment.

Nature helps us clear the mind but does it help prevent and manage chronic illnesses?

A Recent study has shown that walking in natural settings lowers blood pressure and stress induced by noradrenaline. It also helps reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity due to increased secretion of adiponectin (hormone released from adipocytes - fat cells in the body), the risk of heart disease and breast cancer.

Research published by the American Cancer Society has shown that healthy women who walked 3 miles a day at their pace were at lower risk of developing breast cancer than those who remained inactive.Does walking help prevent heart disease?

The British meta-analysis of 18 walking studies with more than 450,000 healthy volunteers has shown that people who walked often benefited from an 82% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and a significantly lower mortality.

Is walking recommended for people with heart disease?

A meta-analysis of 48 trials with nearly 9,000 patients has shown that moderate exercise, usually considered as walking or riding a bicycle for 30 minutes 3 times a week, contributed to a 26% lower risk of death from heart disease and a 20% reduction in the all causes death.

Is walking beneficial for everyone or genetically healthier people simply exercise more?

To answer this question, researchers from Finland studied nearly 16,000 same gender healthy twins. Those who were walking for more than 30 minutes at least 6 times a month were classified as conditioning exercises, those who exercised less than the above, were considered occasional exercisers and those who didn’t exercise were considered sedentary.

After 20-year follow-up exercise turned up to be a strong predictor of survival. Twins who exercised consistently were 56% less likely to die during the study than their sedentary siblings, and even twins who exercised only sporadically had a 34% lower death rate than their sedentary siblings.

Considering that over 50% of the world's population lives in urban areas and by 2050 the proportions will go up to 70%, walking in a natural setting should be routinely prescribed for every inactive individual. Write your prescription and go for a walk today!

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