The life changing magic of walking in the woods by The Mersey Forest

Is modern life getting you down? Anxiety and depression are on the up, stress has been named the number one hazard in the workplace and we’re all suffering from information overload as we battle with staying on top of emails and social media. Addicted to our screens, we’re not getting enough daylight or physical activity.

But there’s a simple, scientifically backed solution. Get outside. In the trees!

The Japanese have known for a long time that being in nature, in the forest, can lower your blood pressure, fight off depression and battle stress. There’s increasing acceptance in the West too that humans are hard-wired to need connection with nature – so called ‘biophilia’ – and we’ll be better, healthier humans if we get our dose of the green stuff.

So, what could a walk in the woods this month do for your brain?

Boost Wellbeing

One study found that walking in natural environments boosts well-being by reducing obsessive, negative thoughts. Physical activity like a brisk walk stimulates the release of body chemicals called endorphins, which act as natural pain killers, reduce stress and produce feelings of wellbeing.

Fight stress and depression

Leisurely forest walks, compared with urban walks, yield a 12.4 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a seven percent decrease in sympathetic nerve activity, a 1.4 percent decrease in blood pressure, and a 5.8 percent decrease in heart rate. Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed.

A Healthy Brain

When people walk, the pressure of making impact with the ground sends waves through the arteries, which increases blood flow to the brain. Getting enough blood to the brain is important for healthy brain function, since blood flow brings the brain oxygen and nutrients.

What about the body?

Of course walking will protect the body too. Not doing enough exercise is becoming a major killer – a public health problem comparable to smoking, responsible for 17% of premature deaths in the UK, 10.5% of heart disease cases, 13% of type 2 diabetes cases and around 18% of cases of colon and breast cancer.

If everyone in England were sufficiently active nearly 37,000 deaths a year could be prevented. And what’s the one form of exercise almost all of us can do, without special equipment, training or money? You’ve guessed it, walking. Most toddlers are excited to learn to walk – sadly in adulthood many of us seem to forget the simple joy of walking in nature.

Think of a walk in the woods like an all-round health tonic:

Live Longer

Our government's health experts NICE recognise that walking can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes. So why aren't more GPs prescribing a walk in the woods?

Recovery and immunity

In one famous 1980s study of post-op patients in a Pennsylvania hospital, those whose rooms had a view of trees recovered more quickly than those looking out at another building.

A Japanese immunologist showed that hiking in the forest – and even a one day trip to a suburban park – boosts natural killer immune cells and anti-cancer proteins for at least seven days afterwards.

Get your essential vitamin D

Exposure to sunlight outdoors is how we get Vitamin D. Many of us just don't get enough and that puts us at risk of osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. You'll get plenty of sunlight on a woodland walk, as long as you don't spend all your time in sitting in the shade!

You don't need membership. There's no contract to sign or induction to complete.

Any other product with these health benefits would be in big demand. But something this natural can't be easily packaged, marketed and monetised.

If woods were run by health clubs...

Are you ready to experience the life changing magic of walking in the woods?

We can help you get started though with these handy woods and walks locators.

The Woodland Trust has a nifty tool that locates woods within a radius of where you live.

Our own Discover the Mersey Forest website includes woods, Forest Parks, walking and cycling routes. Watch out for the relaunch later this year!

And if you think more people should know the benefits of walking in the woods, and the positive role trees play in our health and wellbeing, please sign the new Tree Charter which launches at the end of 2017!

Created By
Jon Kedwards


Created with images by greekfood-tamystika - "beautiful girl in the park throwing leaves" • Rosa Menkman - "Christmas Castle walks" • Snufkin - "shoes hiking shoes hiking" • Heath Cajandig - "Pihea Trail Hike" • horjaraul - "mist sun sunbeams" • Pexels - "adventure back view cliff"

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