One of the things that makes humans unique is our ability to walk upright. It’s a big part of who we are. Moving around might seem simple, but it requires a refined use of our brain power. In this post we explore the connection between walking and our brains, and how we can transform our nature walks to create healthier minds.
These days, we seem to be walking less and less. With easy access to cars and public transport and our work shifting to desks and screens, there are less reasons to go outside. And very often the design of our congested cities does not give us easy access to good walking routes. This sedentary lifestyle takes a silent toll on our health over time.
Let us show you some exceptionally beautiful nature trails around the world and explore the complex science behind how humans walk, revealing a process that boosts our mood, creativity, and sociability. We hope these notes will inspire you to walk and wander more. *Don’t miss the short film at the end.
CREDITS: The health tips for this article have been taken from a wonderful book called ‘In Praise of Walking‘ (2019). It examines the science behind one of the basic skills that defines us as human beings. The author, Shane O’Mara is a Neuroscientist and Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.
One of the most extraordinary nature walks on our planet is through the otherworldly Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Its strange mountain spires topped with grass and trees have been an inspiration for Chinese landscape paintings through centuries. The spires — over 3,000 of them — are made of quartz and sandstone that has eroded over time, leaving crooked towers soaring into the sky. When the fog lingers along the tropical forest below, the rock towers look they’re wafting above it. The floating mountains in Avatar were inspired by these awe-inspiring formations.
The park is in Hunan province, far enough from China’s major metropolitan areas that it was unknown for a long time.To avoid the crowds, spend time hiking in the lower elevations and skip the cable car, elevator, and other areas where tourists concentrate. Your entrance fee also gives you access for four days, so you can explore some of the less-traveled areas of the park, such as the Yangjiajie Scenic Area where a steep two-hour hike leads to an amazing view.
Nature Walk Tip: Walk with your senses
Your brain has two modes: an active mode and a default mode. When your brain is in active mode, it’s focusing on a task, doing stuff in detail – counting something, for example. In default mode, your mind is free to wander, exploring and processing memories. That’s not as frivolous as it sounds; it’s vital for keeping your brain in order and your thinking sharp. Evidence suggests that creativity occurs when these two modes of thinking occur simultaneously. And walking is a great way to encourage the brain to do exactly that. Walking – or more specifically, spatial navigation – stimulates the part of the brain around the hippocampus, which is also the part of the brain that’s active in memory
Contrary to the traditional form of walking as an exercise, the Japanese form of mindful nature walks also known as forest bathing invites you to take a slow walk in nature. By focusing on your senses and soaking in the gifts nature, we can access a range of health benefits for our mind, body, and spirit. Numerous studies confirm forest bathing’s ability to ease high blood pressure, digestive challenges, anxiety, mild depression and insomnia. spirit. According to one study, future cases of depression could be lowered by around 12 percent if everyone spent just one hour a week doing physical activity.
For more info: What is Forest Bathing?
The Appalachian Trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, ranging from Maine to Georgia. From the spiky, tree-clad mountains of the south to the wind-whipped mountain ranges of in the north, beauty is not the exception but the norm. A spectacular range of scenic nature spots, spread across the trail reveal themselves to keep the walker enchanted.
The Trail is not only as a project in land conservation, but as a way for all human beings to find solace, optimism, and rejuvenation during a time of “general upheaval,”. ~ Benton MacKaye
One can visit various parts of the trail for day hikes, and some go even farther, even to the point of attempting a thru-hike, in which they hike the entire length of the trail in one season. The most ambitious hikers do a “yo-yo” which involves hiking the whole trail from beginning to end and then back again. Obviously, this takes lots of time and stamina!
Fore more info visit: https://appalachiantrail.org/ | Beautiful sections of the nature walk.
Nature Walk Tip: Getting Lost
Neuroscientist John O’Keefe has made some pioneering discoveries regarding how the brain. He discovered that our brains contain place cells – they tell us where we are and they work most effectively when we walk. Further research has revealed even more fascinating types of cells in the brain that help us get around. Head-direction cells are essentially an inner compass, indicating our orientation. There are also cells that respond to nearby objects. All in all, the brain more or less has its own GPS network.
Once in a while try walking in an area that you have no idea about. Let your internal sense of direction guide you. Explore things that fill you with awe, wonder, and fascination. Let the signs of nature, the direction of shadows, the sounds on the wind, and the path of the sun guide you. Making walking a habit can preserve your memory. Researchers following up on 300 older adults after 13 years found that those who had walked six to nine miles a week lowered their risk of memory problems by 50 percent.
With their colossal limestone walls and gloriously green valleys, Italy’s Dolomites are home to some of the world’s most majestic scenery — and mountain huts called rifugios make it all the more accessible.
A monumental mountain range in northeastern Italy, the Dolomites have been declared a World Heritage Site since 2009. There are several Alta Via routes, but the AV1, with fewer exposed sections, is ideal for less experienced hikers. The rifugios or traveler’s huts are normally open from June to September.
On the walk you can wander through lush Alpine grazing lands and valley floors carpeted with pine and fir trees. Largely because of the beauty of the pale dolomitic limestone, panoramic vistas are a constant. Experience an exquisite glow that happens at sunrise and sunset, when the dolomitic limestone is bathed in gorgeous peachy-pink hues.
For details and a travel story visit this link.
Nature Walk Tip: Staying Healthy
Given our boxed-in, busy daily lives, it’s especially important to have a moment of calm as part of your daily routine. But, unfortunately, our cities don’t make it easy for us. Over half the global population lives in cities and urban areas – and that will probably rise to 80 percent by 2050.
Researchers sent a group of walkers into a forested area, and another walkers group into a city, for an hour. Afterward, the forest walkers had improved heart and lung function; the city walkers didn’t.
Walking in nature is known to boost our immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration, and their symptoms were milder.
Source: Harvard article on health benefits of walking.
In a country known for exceptional trekking, one of the most iconic trails is the walk to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail. There is the Salkentay route where you can rest in comfort each evening of the hike. But if you’re seeking an alternative route to the illustrious ruins, then perhaps the Choquequirao trek is more apt. Known as The Cradle of Gold, Choquequirao is a former Inca stronghold isolated in the cloud forests above the Apurimac River. It’s just as impressive as Machu Picchu but it’s only accessible by foot, eliminating the likelihood of encountering crowds.
These walks are a journey back in time. A walk among the cloud filled forests makes the memories of our present day hassles fade away into the distance. And when you arrive at the ruins set amidst the magical mountains, we receive the gift of briefly living the lives of ancient civilisations through our imagination.
Nature Walk Tip: Finding Answers
You’ve probably heard people say you should “sleep on” a difficult question – but why not also try “walking on” it? Next time you have a challenging problem to solve at work, give it a go.
Biomimicry is a scientific practice that learns from and mimics the strategies used by species alive today. It offers an empathetic, interconnected understanding of how life works and ultimately where we fit in. There are many examples of exceptional ideas that have come from observing nature. From the flight of planes, the bullet train, or the humble velcro. On a more philosophical note, walking in nature can help us find answers, because we are a part of nature too. The patterns and problems of our inner world are often mysteriously reflected in the art of nature outside.
Welcome to a walker’s paradise, where a network of trails winds past rugged coastlines, through farmland, river valleys and towering forest, to dramatic mountain ranges.
Scattered across the country, each within easy access of cities and towns, the tracks are well-kept and popular with both locals and visitors. Each route is different and offers a one-with-nature experience you can’t get anywhere else.
Walking and hiking throughout New Zealand is the best way to see beautiful landscapes and explore vast wilderness areas. Each Great Walk has been selected for unique combinations of cultural significance, exceptional scenery, and accessibility. Over the Great Walks season between October and April, huts along the tracks are equipped with flushing toilets, cooking gas, and other comforts that aren’t typically seen in DOC huts. As these walks are popular, will need to book these huts in advance.
For more info visit: https://www.newzealand.com/in/walking-and-hiking/
Nature Walk Tip: Making Friends
One study found that elderly people who walked for around 150 minutes each week were more socially active; they also had higher levels of well-being compared to elderly people who walked less. Walking is also a crucial step in young children’s social development – once they can walk, they both play and vocalize a lot more. Adults who walked for 40 minutes three times a week slowed age-related declines in brain function and improved their performance on cognitive tasks.
However, the most significant friendship we create is the one with nature itself. Those who know how to silence the mind to match the silence of nature, find a rare and invaluable gift in life. A space of unconditional acceptance and the freedom to know our true selves.
Nature Walk Film
Watching this heart-warming short film by Gnarly Bay. Journey with them as they walk through Chile and Patagonia to find an important life message. Do watch in full-screen and with headphones if possible.
NATURE WALK SUMMARY
There are many ways one can benefit from standing up, leaving the house, and taking a stroll in Nature. By walking more we can boost our physical as well as mental health. It also helps us become more creative and social. The wonderful thing is that we don’t have to journey to the far corners of the world to experience its healing effects. Discovering the wild and wonderful in our own neighbourhood is the seed that flowers into our well-being. And our connectedness creates a lifetime of learning, wisdom, and growth.
Feel free to add your favourite nature trail recommendations in the comments below. What gifts and lessons have you received from your walks?
Healing Forest is a project that aims to bring people and forests closer to each other through inspiring stories, films, and articles . Our aim is simple. Helping people heal. Helping forests heal
REQUEST: Do share this post with those who might find it useful | *And check out our Nature Calm course for more ideas.