Easy as a Walk on a Summer Day!

I just arrived in Brazil to teach a five day professional training on my Eat for Life Program. To my surprise and delight, my hotel was right by an urban park. It was a Sunday and there were people engaging in soccer, gymnastics, strolling, running, strength training, dog training, kid chasing, and more. Everyone looked like they were having such a good time (myself included), it inspired me to write this blog!  

While it’s obvious that the body needs movement in order to be physically healthy, one of the best ways you can find emotional balance is also through the body. It’s helpful to remember that the body and mind are not separate, so when you heal one you begin to heal the whole.

One field survey assessed the restorative effects of visiting an urban forest and a city park in Zurich, Switzerland. People reported feeling significantly less stressed (87%), had a significantly greater sense of well-being, and had a significant reduction in headaches. The longer the visit the more positive the effects. Positive effects increased with length of visit and the engagement in more strenuous activities (e.g., jogging, biking, playing ball).  

Another review of the literature found that, compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy! Participants were also more likely to say that they would engage in an outdoor activity at a later date.

Lastly, there is an interesting body of research out of Japan on Shinrin-yoku (or, taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing”). Japan even has a Society of Forest Medicine which was founded in 2007 because of the growing body of research showing the therapeutic effects of forests on human health. Combining results from 24 studies, it was found that spending time in a forest environment compared to an urban environment promotes lower concentrations of cortisol (the “stress” hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity (the “rest and digest” response), and lower sympathetic nerve activity (the stress response).  

Whew! I’m happier just reading all that; and I’m getting on my tennis shoes to go back to the park as soon as I write this blog!

So, what can you do? The list is endless, but here are a few suggestions.

1. Find a local trail and use it.  In Columbia, Missouri, where I live, there is a fabulous trail that goes along the old railroad line from the city out to the river and all the way across Missouri. Most towns and cities are developing trails for walkers and bikers and they really bring the outdoors to life in the city.

2. Buy a good pair of sneakers. One of the best and easiest things you can do to move your body is to have a comfortable pair of shoes. Look around for a store that can help you fit your unique foot into the shoe that’s just right for you and the activity you will engage in.  It’s hard to beat a comfy shoe when you are on the trail or at the park.

3. Look for local parks. Did you know that the Trust for Public Land is working on a project to bring a park or green space within a 10-minute walk to residents in cities and towns across the nation.  Click here to find out about parks near you and, if you have time to help out, volunteers are greatly needed in most of them.

4.  Walk where you are. While it might not be as yummy as “forest bathing,” having a walking trail that you develop which starts at your front door can be a life saver at the beginning or end of the day. Make a trail or two around your surrounding neighborhoods that gets you outdoors for at least 30 minutes or more. The more convenient we make our movement activities, the more likely we will be to do them.

5. Do what feels delicious. I always tell people to move their body in ways that feel delicious. If you don’t love it, you won’t likely continue to do it. For instance, I hate running and, after my first and only 5K, I never ran again. If you run and love it, great. But if you don’t, find something that appeals to you such as walking, biking, skating, or swimming.

It’s summer! I hope you take advantage of moving your body in the wonderful outdoors while the weather is particularly conducive. For me, I’m headed back to the park.