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In the words of Carrie Latet, walking is “the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise”.

Wise words, and true enough. Walking is wonderful. We’ve discussed its many health benefits previously on the blog, but suffice it to say that it’s an excellent way to keep fit.

Generally speaking, walking is great wherever you roam. But it turns out that the quality of your walking environment might actually have an impact on the type and extent of the health benefits you obtain.

In other words, walking in nature could be better for your health than walking in urban areas. Which makes a regular stroll through the park the perfect accompaniment to a regular gym routine.

And if you need any convincing to strap on your walking boots, here’s why going for a walk in the park can make an excellent addition to your weekly exercise routine.

It could reduce stress

According to a study, people who regularly visit urban parks for an average of 20 minutes report a significant increase in life satisfaction afterwards.

The suspected cause of this happiness boost, according to Hon Yuen of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is a reduction in stress levels brought about by the park’s natural surroundings. Because we’re out in nature, we’re more likely to experience moments of quiet, calm, and tranquility.

Researchers at Kyoto University also found forest environments to be effective stress-reducers, especially for those experiencing chronic stress. The suggest that regular shinrin-yoku (also known as nature therapy) may help to “decrease the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases”.

Furthermore, in the words of the National Park Service:

“Listening to birdsongs and observing animals in nature have shown to promote wellbeing, reduce stress, improve mood, and reduce attention fatigue. Natural aromas from wood and plants have calming effects and viewing nature reduces mental fatigue.”

Green spaces make healthy hearts

Although walking in general is considered to be a good exercise for the heart, walking through green spaces may provide even more positive effects. Take the Finnish study, for example, which concluded that urban forests or parks are more beneficial to heart health that urban city centres.

Or consider the Japanese researchers who found that a 2 hour walk in a forest park significantly lowered participants’ blood pressure. They also concluded that blood pressure was lower in participants who walked through the woods compared with participants who took a similar walk through a city environment.

Another Japanese study, comparing urbanites to nature-dwellers, revealed that, of the two groups, people who spent time in forests had lower blood pressure and heart rates.

And to quote the National Park Service once again, “[a] 30-minute visit to a park can improve heart health, circulation and lower cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure”.

May help combat depression

It turns out that, when it comes to walking walking, being out in nature may be the best way to reduce certain symptoms of depression. In particular rumination, which is the habit  of overthinking and constantly revisiting negative thoughts.

Researchers from Stanford University conducted a study comparing ruminative thought patterns in both nature- and urban-walkers. As you might have guessed, the participants out in nature showed decreases in rumination. Interestingly, however, the city-walking group showed no improvement at all.

This may suggest that, although walking in any environment can reap similar physical health benefits, walking in nature may provide more of a positive psychological impact.

Exercise lots and keep healthy

For more on the relationship between health, wellbeing, and exercise, take a look at our top 5 benefits of regular exercise. Or read up on how exercise can improve memory.