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If weather and circumstances permit, a walk in nature is one of the most health-promoting activities a person can participate in. Most people report feeling better if they take some time out of their day to wander through nature. With plenty of good reasons. Below you will find 10 of my favorite health benefits of an outdoor hike!
1. Exercise - forgive me for pointing out the obvious. Take advantage of nature's gym. No membership required.
2. Reduce Stress - merely anticipating a walk in nature has been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol. Being exposed to the common sounds of nature (water, wind and wildlife) has been shown to reduce stress as well.
3. Better Functioning Immune System - breathing in phytoncides, the chemicals released by trees that give them their characteristic smell, has been shown to boost Natural Killer Cells, an important part of the immune system.
4. Improve Mood - when outdoor light enters yours eyes, it signals the brain to ramp up production of serotonin, your "feel good" hormone. Outdoor light on a cloudy day is still brighter than indoor light.
5. Improve Sleep - some of the serotonin that your brain makes when the light hits your eyes is then turned into melatonin, your "fall asleep" hormone. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, which protects your cells and DNA from damage.
6. Improve Balance - a walk in nature does not have the typical flat, hard surfaces we are accustomed to walking on in civilization. Walking over varied, uneven surfaces makes the brain work harder to maintain balance.
7. Improve Circulation - sunlight hitting the skin releases nitric oxide into the bloodstream, which can relax blood vessels, improve circuation, and lower blood pressure.
8. Improve Vitamin D Status - another well-known benefit of sunlight on the skin is that it helps the body make its own vitamin D. This is important for immune, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal health.
9. Enhance Creativity - research out of Stanford shows that walking improves creative inspiration. Compared to a person who is sitting, walking increases creative output by 60% on average.
10. Reduce Anxiety - the mere act of moving forward and moving your eyes from side to side (looking around you) has been shown to suppress the amygdala, an area of the brain involved with fear and anxiety.
Bonus: Recharge your CoQ10! If you eat dark leafy greens shortly before your walk, you will have chlorophyll components floating through your blood. When sunlight hits your skin, these components help recharge your body's own CoQ10, needed by your cells to produce energy. You must have both the greens and the light for this effect to work!