Why is a walk in the woods so good for you?
There is no Wi-Fi in the forest, but trust me, you will find a better connection. Walking in the woods offers a break from distractions. In Japan they call it shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” We call it a walk in the woods, and we know that it makes us feel good.
Scientists have studied the physical and mental benefits that come from a walk in nature. Many theories suggest various reasons why nature feels good: clean air, lack of noise pollution, and even the fine mist that comes off the trees, that fresh evergreen smell that makes us breathe deeply through our noses. But the most convincing argument for the peace we feel in nature is that the flowers and the birds never aggressively grab our attention. The voluntary attention we pay them is very different from the attention we are forced to pay to a car horn honking, for example.
Going for a walk in the park allows your mind to wander, which benefits your brain. Throughout the day, we are required to use voluntary attention repeatedly for cognitive tasks, like responding to texts and e-mail, or remembering our shopping list. Our brain grows tired and inefficient without a break. Going for a walk in the park or a quiet place without distractions gives voluntary attention a break, lets your mind wander, and allows you to be involuntarily engaged by your surroundings. The other benefits of walking in nature are the fresh smells, the clean air, and being surrounded by earthy hues. All of these factors contribute to why a walk in the woods makes you feel good.
My hunch, based on anecdotal on-the-trail research, is that the break from distractions plays a pivotal role in making the woodsy walker feel refreshed. Focusing on walking, one foot in front of the other, is therapeutic. Left, right, left, right. And don’t forget to turn off that cell phone!