Important Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Walking in Nature

All the reasons you should be incorporating outdoor time into your schedule!

Getting physical exercise is a very important part of most people’s days, regardless of intensity or physicality. Walking can be a great choice because it is relatively low impact and can be enjoyable if done under the right circumstances. Getting outside is also very important, and it always has been, but lately its importance has reached new levels. This is because with the Covid-19 pandemic, people are spending an increased amount of time inside, sitting, and often, looking at screens. 


Falling into a routine of being inside can make it difficult to prioritize getting outdoor time, and I’m here to remind you to get outside! Put on your mask (double up!) and hit the streets for at least a few minutes every day. There are physical and mental benefits that you will be able to observe after one walk. 



Walking is an as good, if not better form of exercise than running! 


Walking is Good Exercise


Doctors and exercise experts have weighed in- walking is as good if not a better form of exercise than running for many people. Read that sentence again. You can get just as good, if not a better workout from taking a walk, than you could from running. And, you will get much less sweaty, potentially experience less physical pain, and be able to breathe consistently. It is important to note that in terms of muscular effort and endurance, running is a “better” workout, but walking is a better choice for many people and can provide similar results and goal achievements to running or other forms of cardio. 


Physical Benefits of Walking 


For people with knee problems or back pain problems, walking is a great, low impact choice to get in some cardio and gentle movement. The physical benefits that can be reaped from walking are plentiful. 



Improved Fitness 

Walking improves your physical fitness through the practice of moving your body more regularly and pushing you to get yourself going. Try starting with fifteen minute walks and building up your time by five minutes or so every few days. Before you know it, you will be walking for hours without feeling tired, because walking also improves your physical endurance. 


Improved Cardiac Health

Walking improves your cardiac health by getting your heart rate up enough to activate the muscle, without making you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack. This makes it the perfect exercise. 


Weight Loss or Maintenance

Walking can help you achieve weight loss or maintenance goals, because even on short walks, you will be burning calories. If you want to commit yourself to becoming a walker, invest in a smart watch or app that will keep track of your mileage, steps, calories burnt, and heart rate. It’s exciting to see your progress.  


Less Pain

Walking can help give you healthier joints, which will reduce your bodily pain. Walking regularly can also help with back, knee, or hip pain that comes with spending a lot of time sitting down or sedentary. Walking also helps to better your posture which will in turn help minimize pain. 


Mental Benefits of Walking 


Walking is a form of exercise which means that doing it releases endorphins, a feel good bodily hormone secreted through physical exertion. There are many mental and emotional benefits to be found from walking. 


Decrease Anxiety and Depression

Walking can help decrease mental illnesses like anxiety and depression because not only do endorphins help with low mood and stress, walking is a great way to clear your head and take a break from a long or intense schedule. Listening to music, a podcast, or a book on tape while you are walking can help to further relax and distract you. 


Better Sleep

Walking can help improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep, as well as reducing feelings of fatigue. Any routine physical exercise is good for your sleep schedule, as your body will be properly tired and ready for a full night of rest. 


Boosted Creativity

Walking also has been shown to boost creativity. In a study performed on walking, it was found that those who walk regularly think more creatively than those who don't. There is something about being alone with your thoughts that fosters creativity and imagination. 


Social Benefits

Walking with a friend is a great activity, and planning a walk with a friend can be a good incentive to use to get yourself excited for the walk. If you can't walk with a friend in person, like many of us are struggling with currently with social distancing, planning a phone call for during a walk is another great distraction and way to kill two birds with one stone. If you’re busy and don't have a lot of time to take breaks, doubling your walk with your catchup phone calls is a great move. 


Walking outdoors provides even more benefits than just walking indoors.

 

Why You Should Do Your Walking Outside 


There are many reasons to choose to do your walk outside, weather permitting. Getting fresh air is a huge incentive. Being in the sunshine and greenery surrounded by fresh air makes you feel more alive and energized, and it also makes you more likely to want to do a walk again than doing a walk on a treadmill or elliptical. Being outside also gives you the opportunity to soak up some valuable Vitamin D which is necessary for all people. 


Walking outside also increases self esteem. This has been studied and found to be true by many psychologists and health professionals. Something about doing physical exercise outdoors boosts self esteem and positive self thinking. Try it and see for yourself! 


Walking outside provides the opportunity for people or animal watching. Walking inside constricts you to the same screens or papers you have already been looking at all day or will be looking at for the rest of the day. You might even experience some social interaction which could also be mood boosting and invigorating. 


Leaving home is good for you. You never know who or what you might encounter, what opportunities are waiting for you when you open your front door. Weather permitting, challenge yourself to getting your walking done outside. If you hate it, you can return to the treadmill. But you won't hate it. 


Essentials for making walking more enjoyable can range from a great pair of shoes to a good walking partner. 


Walking Essentials 


If you’re serious about becoming a regular walker, there are some essentials you’re definitely going to want to have to make your routine more pleasant and seamless. From shoes to smart watches to ear buds, here are some of the highest recommended products on the market, from other walkers, to you. 


Walking Shoes

This one is obvious. If you’re going to become a walker, you need a good pair of walking shoes that will support your feet and keep you happy and comfortable day after day. Brooks shoes are some of the highest recommended shoes on the market, and they even have a quiz you can take to identify your unique needs to match you with the best pair of shoes possible. 


Smart Watch / Tracker 

Smart Watches or Trackers are a fun way to monitor your walking progress as well as a bevy of other stats. Depending on the model of Fitbit you pick out, they can tell you all sorts of things about your health. The pricier ones even feature sleep tracking. On the cheaper end, they will still count your steps and mileage, basic but fun things to know as a walker. Explore the Fitbit website to find the best match for you. 


Earbuds

A good pair of wireless earbuds will be a game changer for making your walks fuss and stress free. This does not mean that you need to break the bank and splurge for Apple Airpods, there are plenty of lower priced options that have great reviews. These Skullcandy earbuds have great reviews, look super cute, and are sold at a very manageable price point for the use you will be sure to get out of them as a regular walker. 


A friend!

A friend, partner, family member, or neighbor can make walks much more enjoyable, and pass the time faster. A walking partner can also help keep you accountable to your goals and push you to new limits. 


There are so many reasons to incorporate outdoor walking into your daily routine, especially right now, with gym closures and long days filled with screen time. Walking will break up the monotony of quarantine life and give you the opportunity to move your body in a gentle but effective way. Challenge yourself to walk outside, weather permitting, every day for a month. If you still hate it after a month, maybe walking is not the activity for you. But you won’t hate it. It’s fun and it feels good!  




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Macie Gelb

Macie Gelb is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh studying english writing, gender studies, and legal studies.
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