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3 New Reasons to Take a Walk in Nature

Posted on 30 November 2015

Last Friday night, someone broke into my car and stole a few things. They left behind my yoga mats and barre sticky socks, so they must not be into yoga or barre class (!). The perpetrators must be in significant pain.woman-walk-hat I live in an urban setting with a high crime rate. In fact, it’s among the highest in the country for both violent and property crime (ranked #1 on a scale from 1 to 100). The smashed window and stolen goods occurred the same night at the atrocious terrorist attacks in Paris, which definitely put my tiny experience with petty crime in perspective. Here’s what I know about myself: I startle easily. I’m highly sensitive and it doesn’t take much for stress to mount in response to external or internal circumstances. I don’t have the best shock absorbers. I brood, or ruminate obsessively on my more negative aspects. Sometimes my self talk has no filter. As I sometimes joke, I can think my way into hormone imbalance. I wonder if you’re like me in that regard. I want to revisit one of the best antidotes for the highly sensitive: a walk in nature. We all know that glorious feeling of taking a deep, lung-capacity breath of fresh air. Maybe you’re like me and notice your eye muscles relax when you’re not squinting at a text on your smart phone or an email on your laptop, and instead trace the horizon of your vista while you walk. A new study confirms the positive brain changes that result from visiting nature. twitter-top

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir

twitter-bottom New Study #1: Walking in Nature Boosts Happinessolder-woman-walking Walking in nature makes you more attentive and happy, even compared with walking the same amount of time close to heavy traffic. ((http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169204615000286)) Many studies have documented that city dwellers with less access to green space have more psychological problems: anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, brooding (defined as morbid rumination).((http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4041337/)) ((http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3817995/))((http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377926/)) In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir New Study #2: Walking in Nature Quiets the “Brooding Center” of the Brain Nature makes you less likely to brood. What are the mechanisms? Gregory Bratman at Stanford recently found out. ((http://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567)) abstract Apparently, there’s a part of your brain that is the center of brooding called the subgenual prefrontal cortex. Walking in nature with trees and leaves for 90 minutes quiets this part of the brain. It meaningfully lowers your brooding, and makes you more happy and free. New Study #3: Walking Fast Intermittently Decreases Aging If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know that I’m writing my next book on how to lengthen your healthspan. You also may know that I’m a fan of burst training, such as barre class or Tabata. But your exercise regimen need not be so punishing, because if you’re not yet in excellent condition, these more advanced forms of burst training may increase your risk of injury or otherwise make you miserable. What we want is something easy for you to do, with a low injury risk, and that you’ll stick to. Good news! According to research in the past decade, you can walk as a form of burst training. However, you still need to push yourself a little. A new study published in the esteemed Journal of Applied Physiology showed that middle-aged and older (aged 44 to 78) men and women who walked intermittently fast experience significant health gains and slowed down aging.((http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25539937)) What’s exciting to me is that this protocol has high adherence rates of about 70 percent, reduced lifestyle-related disease score, increased VO2max (how much oxygen you can take in while exercising hard – a measure of conditioning) of 12 percent, decreased body mass index (a ratio of weight and height), Originally the protocol was published in 2007, which was important because it showed that people who intermittently walk perform better than continuously walking at a moderate pace.((http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17605959)) Additionally, that study got my attention because the interval walkers reversed the aging process in terms of their thigh strength and aerobic conditioning. Overall, the intermittent walkers improved their metrics as follows:
  • isometric knee extension increased by 13 percent
  • isometric knee flexion by went up 17 percent
  • peak aerobic capacity increased by 9 percent for walking
  • peak aerobic capacity improved by 8 percent as measured by cycling
  • lower systolic blood pressure at rest
Here’s how to do it:
  1. Walk “somewhat hard” or fast for three minutes, at an exertion level of 7 out of 10 (10 is maximal exertion, so 70 percent of their max).
  2. After three minutes, walk at a leisurely pace, at 30 percent of your max.
  3. Perform a minimum of 5 rounds of walking 70 percent alternating with 30 percent maximal effort.
  4. Do it for at least 30 minutes, at least three times per week.
People who didn’t stick with the protocol cited “family, health and job issues.” Don’t be a quitter; post below if you’re having a hard time fitting this into your life and together we can troubleshoot solutions and workarounds! Recap: Your New Walking Protocol Walk in nature, because it will make you attentive, happy, and turn down the brooding center of your brain, the subgenual prefrontal cortex. I know you already got it that walking in nature is good for you, but sometimes I need a reminder of why it should be a daily practice. So go on a walk in nature today. Even if you don’t get a full 90 minutes, it will probably lower your stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and reset your subgenual prefrontal cortex. Try interval walking. Now it’s your turn. Have you tried interval or burst training before? What’s been your experience? Have you tried interval walking training? What do you like/dislike?

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