Take a walk. It’s good for your physical and mental health. A walk in the woods is even better.
Let’s take a walk on a trail near my house. The trail used to be part of the Croton Aqueduct, which was built in the mid-1800s to carry water from an upstate reservoir at Croton, New York, to midtown Manhattan. The aqueduct, an impressive 41 miles in length, emptied into a holding pool at what is now Bryant Park, on 42nd Street. A section of the surviving trail is just a few hundred yards from my home in Ossining. Let’s lace up our shoes and look-see.
Here’s where this section of the trail begins, at the side of the road that I live on. The concrete structure you see in the distance is a weir, which Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, explains was “used to empty the aqueduct for maintenance by diverting the waters to a nearby waterway. The line could be emptied in two hours.”
It turns out that a walk in the woods is more than just a walk in the woods. According to one article, “Living next to ‘green environments’ has been shown to have both mental and physical health advantages. Walks in parks, particularly when mindfulness is used — known as ‘forest bathing’ — can have positive effects on well-being….. Setting aside time each week to walk mindfully in a green environment is the first step to reconnecting with ourselves.”
According to another article:
We also know that exposure to green space, even within urban environments, increases our physical and mental well-being. But what are the mechanisms?
The forest air
Japanese researchers suggested that we are taking in beneficial substances when we breathe forest air.
Research has identified three major inhaled factors that can make us feel healthier. These factors are beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions.
From birth to the grave, beneficial bacteria surround us; they live in the environment and, importantly, in the air we breathe. We also share almost our entire body with them. The more interaction we have with them, the happier and healthier we are.
Bryan Grant, famed person with Parkinson’s, has this to say on his website about walking in nature:
“When you walk outside, you’re experiencing subtle changes in the terrain that test your balance and cognition, such as walking on uneven surfaces and navigating turns. There are also the mental health benefits of being outdoors.”
Bryan Grant’s website continues:
“Since hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, it improves bone density and strengthens your core, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. It’s one of those ‘one-stop-shop’ workouts that build multiple components of fitness (cardio and strengthening) simultaneously.
“Adding to the fact that you’re taking in the mesmerizing sounds of wildlife and some of the most scenic views Mother Earth has to offer—be it forests, mountains, deserts, waterfalls, rivers or creeks—hiking nourishes the mind, body and soul in ways no other workout can.”
Another article, titled “Why Forest Bathing is Good for Your Health,” adds the following:
“Li’s research seems to corroborate this. For example, one of his studies looked at whether forest bathing could improve sleep patterns among middle-aged Tokyo office workers who tended to suffer sleep deficiency due to high stress levels. During the study, participants walked the same amount of time in a forest that they usually did in a non-forest setting on a normal working day. After a walk in the forest, participants were significantly less anxious, slept better, and slept longer. In addition, researchers found that afternoon walks were even more beneficial than morning walks.
“’You sleep better when you spend time in a forest, even when you don’t increase the amount of physical activity you do,’ reported Li.“
The same article continues:
“To further assess the effects of time spent in a forest, Li measured people’s moods before and after walking in the woods or in an urban environment. While other studies have shown that walking anywhere outdoors reduces depression, anxiety, and anger, Li found that only the experience of walking in a forest improved people’s vigor and reduced fatigue.”
“The health secrets of trees seem to lie in two things—the higher concentration of oxygen that exists in a forest, as compared to an urban setting, and the presence of plant chemicals called phytoncides—natural oils that are part of a plant’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Exposure to these substances, says Li, can have measurable health benefits for humans. Physiological stress is reduced, for example, and both blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Evergreens—pine, cedar, spruce, and conifers—are the largest producers of phytoncides, so walking in an evergreen forest seems to have the greatest health benefits.”
“Engage all your senses. ‘Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,’ says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. ‘Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.’“
Here’s where I usually turn around and walk home (total distance: about 2 miles). If I cross the road and follow the path, it soon ends up at the reservoir.
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