It’s no surprise that regular walking is good for us.
But did you know that a walk in the countryside has some particularly amazing benefits?
As well as boosting your mood and cardiovascular system, a regular walk in the country has a slew of other benefits, which have a positive impact on your mental and physical health.
The best part about walking is that anybody can do it – regardless of their age or fitness level. And, it’s free!
Take a look at these 8 health benefits of taking a regular country walk.
It protects your heart more effectively than running.
Walking has been shown to help protect against heart disease, in some cases more effectively than running.
Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California looked at a group of participants aged between 18 and 80 over a six year period who took regular brisk walks. It was found that brisk walking helped reduce the risk of heart disease by 9.3%, vs running which reduced it by 4.5%.
It improves your fitness and cardiovascular health.
Walking in general is a great way to get the limbs moving, improve circulation and boost your cardiovascular system.
But walking in the country provides bit more of a physical challenge for the body, bringing extra fitness benefits.
Uneven terrains or walking uphill can give a great glute workout, whilst longer, flatter walks improve endurance.
Try changing up your route whenever possible, to give your body the maximum benefits. These fantastic walks in the Lake District will give you some ideas.
It provides brain-healing benefits.
Walking in green spaces is a great way to connect with nature, which in turn has proven brain-healing qualities.
Essex University research team Green Exercise found that walking within nature helps to reduce stress levels, improves mood, enhances psychological well-being and improves attention and concentration.
Unlike urban spaces which can be mentally demanding, nature involves what is called a “soft fascination~”, which means the brain is stimulated without being drained.
It can improve your cognitive performance.
Did you know that an hour of strolling through the countryside can improve cognitive performance by a fifth, including memory and concentration levels?
The incredible benefit was found in a study by the University of Michigan, who measured two groups taking 50 minute walks every day in a controlled environment.
It’s important to note that only a walk in the countryside will bring the benefits – not busy crowded streets. Nevertheless, the effects on memory and attention were proven to be real and not subjective.
Marc Burman, a researcher, claimed that the countryside walk was more ‘restorative’ because it allowed people to switch off. Interacting with nature could potentially even have similar effects to meditating.
It can help you cope better at work.
Forget caffeine, checking social media or post-work drinks…a walk in nature could be the way to bust those office blues.
And it turns out even looking at pictures of nature can improve your ability to cope.
Research by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) measured responses to stress before and after viewing nature in both real and stimulated environments.
Over 8 weeks, the participants were found to have lower blood pressure levels and perceived stress (the group exposed to the real nature obviously coming off better).
It can help to treat and prevent depression.
The University of Stirling found that walking has a significant effect on depression, and even had a similar effect to other, more rigorous exercises.
Whether one walks alone or with a family member or friend, simply getting out of the house for a brisk 30 minute walk can help regulate hormones and chemicals in the brain.
It’s even been suggested that exercise in general could be a viable alternative to medicine when it comes to treating depression.
A 16 week study involving 202 men and women found that exercising just three times a week reduced major depression in 45% of patients – just less than 47% of those who took medication.
The research has also been backed up by mental health charity Mind in their report ‘Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health’. The report describes how regular country walks can reduce depression and raise self-esteem, more so than congested city routes.
It boosts your creativity and imagination.
The benefits of walking have been claimed by many great creatives, such as Nietzsche and Henry Thoreau.
But it’s actually been proven that the art of walking provides a ‘mental unshackling’ that frees up your mind for other creative pursuits.
Dr Sowden, from the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey, writes on a National Trust blog: “Walking has been shown to improve the ability to shift between modes of thought, attention, memory and recovery from mental fatigue.”
The changing environment on a walk also provides endless new and unique experiences, which in turn provoke new associations and trigger new ideas.
It can help you sleep better.
Going for a walk in the country can help you sleep better the following night, studies have shown.
A study by the Oregon State University found that adding 30 minutes of brisk walking to your daily routine (preferably in the morning, for the best effects) helped improve sleep quality.
The Sleep Foundation also reports studies that shown exercise significantly improving the quality of sleep for those with chronic insomnia. However, the type of exercise also had an effect – vigorous aerobic exercise or lifting weights did not improve sleep, whilst moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like walking did.