Studies show walking in nature improves mental and physical health
Walking in nature, a practice also called a forest bath, is practice that has been shown in about 20 studies to improve mental and physical health.
It has become a prescribed treatment for stress-related conditions in Japan, according to Kirsten McEwan, an associate professor and research psychologist at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom.
Spending any time in nature is a great way to improve your mental health, and the ideal amount of time is about 120 minutes a week, said health and environmental psychologist Mathew White, a senior scientist at the University of Vienna. That may sound like a lot, but you don't have to do it all at once.
"Just having those micro moments of life in nature, whether it is just 5 or 10 minutes a day building up to that 120 minutes, it all has massive benefit," McEwan said.
In fact, forest bathing doesn't have to take place in a forest.
"Forest bathing is essentially a slow, mindful walk in nature where you pay really close attention to your surroundings, using all of your senses," McEwan said. "It's just to kind of switch your brain off and give yourself a little bit of a rest from ruminating about your to-do list."
But you don't have to walk all that much to reap the benefits if you are appreciating your surroundings. And consider this: Nature isn't just waiting for you on your next beach or camping trip.
"Nature is oftentimes under our nose if we just take the time to be intentional about connecting with it," said Chloe Carmichael, a New York therapist. Even those who live in areas surrounded by natural beauty can start to tune it out, so intentional focus is key, she said.
Whether you live in a bustling city or an expansive rural area, Carmichael and McEwan said, everyone can benefit from time in nature -- and the best way to build time outdoors into your routine is to incorporate it into what you already do.
Walking is great for a forest bath, even if it's on your way to work or school.
Maybe you leave a little earlier and go more slowly, taking a route with more greenery, McEwan said. Perhaps you pay closer attention to the flowers springing through the cracks in the cement or the trees lining the street, she added.
"It's like nature reclaiming the city," McEwan said.