I recently started reading the book “Forest Bathing” by Dr, Qing Li. It was recommended to me by one of our Burn the Fat Inner Circle members. The book is about nature walking and the science of walking in nature that was developed in Japan. I had the book on my shelf a long time and finally picked it up this week when we launched our Burn the Fat walking challenge. I’m half way through already and really enjoying it, including the beautiful photos, mostly of the Japanese forests.
Before I started reading it, I already believed in the restorative power of nature, and the health benefits of walking in nature. However, I didn’t know anything about the book and had never heard the term, “forest bathing” (Shinrin-Yoku). At first I wondered whether this might be some esoteric Asian philosophy kind of stuff. I didn’t know whether it might even be a bunch of “new age woo.”
After reading, I saw that Dr. Li is a Physician, immunologist and associate professor. While written in simple language for the layperson, the information is based on science. He doesn’t cite that many studies, and I wish he would have gone deeper into the research. (I am a science and research nerd). However, the main idea, that nature walking has amazing health benefits, is evidence-based.
Research on the health benefits of walks in nature
Like I usually do, I flipped to the scientific references in the back. Then I went online and started looking up some of the studies he cited about the health benefits of spending time in nature, viewing nature, and walking in nature. From the small handful he provided, I was able search even deeper and find many more.
The evidence is compelling. I don’t think there’s s any question that time with nature is good for our health, especially walking in nature. I think most people believe this already without needing studies. Both intuition and experience back it up.
There was one study I found that really grabbed my attention that wasn’t cited in his book. (It was done after the book was published). This was a randomized controlled trial about the effect of nature walking on stress. It was featured in the scientific journal, Environment and Behavior by an international research group from Luxembourg, Iceland and the UK.
Science uncovers the benefits of nature walking on stress hormones and stress reduction
The benefits of nature walks are far reaching. Walking may be one of the best “balms for body and brain” as neuroscientist Shane O’mara put it, not just beneficial for body alone. But this study wasn’t about the mind. It was focused on the effect of walking in nature on the body under real-life stress. Specifically, the researchers measured cortisol response (cortisol is a stress hormone).
They put together a very clever research design, not only to measure the health benefits of walking in nature, but also to compare that to walking on a treadmill. In addition, a third variable was comparing the walking in outdoor or indoor environments to viewing nature scenes (on TV).
Here were the main findings:
- All three interventions lowered cortisol levels (had a restorative effect). Yep, even viewing nature on TV
- Walking in nature resulted in lower cortisol levels than simply viewing nature
- Walking alone (exercise) even on a treadmill is beneficial at reducing stress levels
- Walking in nature mitigates the stress response (lowers cortisol) more than walking on a treadmill (physical exercise alone)
In this study, the nature walks (and treadmill sessions) were 40 minutes. In reading Li’s book, he suggested at least 2 hours immersed in nature once a week and he said 4 hours was better. I’m not sure if he had a scientific reference for that or if it was his own prescription.
Even if 2 to 4 hours is better (I’ll take all day given the chance), this study shows beneficial effects in only 40 minutes. In fact, other studies have showed benefits in 30 minutes and even as little as 10 minutes. One research group said the biggest impact happens in the first 5 minutes. There was even a study suggesting that while at work, being able to look out a window to nature or greenery for just minutes gives you benefits for mind and body.
Nature walking vs treadmill walking
Now here is one of the most interesting findings and one of the most clever parts of the study design. The subjects were students and they were followed for a semester right into the stressful finals period. Under normal conditions, the results showed that walking in nature reduces stress (cortisol) more than walking on a treadmill indoors. The difference wasn’t that big though. Any kind of walking is a good stress reducer.
But what they discovered is that during conditions of acute high stress such as final exams, the benefits of walking in nature were the biggest of all.
If you find yourself in a brief period where your life stress is extraordinarily high, finding the time to get out into nature could be one of the best ways you can reduce stress. In addition, this study is one of many showing that the benefits are biological – a measurable difference in stress hormones. These are not just mental or mood-boosting benefits.
Maybe you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere that you can venture into the woods briefly every day. But even if you can only get away to the woods or natural areas once a week, if you’d like a proven way to reduce your stress levels and feel a lot better, it’s worth making it a priority.
Here’s a great way to get yourself out the door and walking more
Of course we endorse resistance training for everyone. But there’s a reason we also recommend walking (and hiking in the woods) so often in our Burn The Fat Inner Circle community…
I’m such a big advocate of walking, I sponsor not only body transformation contests, but also walking events, namely our Burn The Fat million step challenge.
If you want some extra encouragement and motivation to get up off the couch or chair and get out on the trails, then enter one of our challenges.
It’s a virtual event you can do anywhere, and there’s a challenge kicking off this week of April 11th to April 17th, which means you still have time to join us. It’s fun, you’ll get fit, there’s a competitive part of it, and there’s a social part of it too. You’ll meet a ton of great people from our Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle community.
I’ll have to talk about it in another blog post, but there are studies showing amazing benefits of group walking as well. And while group walking often refers to in-person groups, the benefits of online groups are powerful as well. Social connection is another balm for the body and mind.
An invitation to our walking challenge:
Our community is thousands strong, and hundreds have already chosen to jump into our 2022 spring million step challenge.
The contest is free to enter for all our readers and you can win cool prizes like FitBits or new shoes from Zappos. You can get all the details and enter by clicking the link below:
Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle – The Bible Of Fat Loss
Founder, Burn the Fat Inner Circle
PS. Did you miss our last post on how to easily get 10,000 steps a day?
Read now: www.burnthefatblog.com/how-to-get-10000-steps-a-day/
PPS. This is our amazon associates (affiliate) link for the Forest Bathing book: https://amzn.to/3jGHc8n
About Tom Venuto, The No-BS Fat Loss Coach
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss expert. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and today works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast and backpacker. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 55,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here to learn more about Burn the fat Inner Circle
Olafsdottir, G et al, Health Benefits of Walking in Nature: A Randomized Controlled Study Under Conditions of Real-Life Stress, Environment and Behavior 1–27, 2018.