“Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” — John Muir.

By Julie Gregory, Chief Health Liaison for Apollo Health

Of all of the strategies that I regularly use on my healing journey, NONE is more effective than simply walking in nature. I spend an hour or more walking outside every single day, no matter the weather, and it’s become my touchstone. As the global pandemic has restricted almost everything else — travel, visiting with friends and family, dining out, and more — this is my daily treat, an appointment with myself. By spending time in nature, I’m able to take a mini-vacation, that not only provides excellent exercise for my body but also aids in stress management by providing an opportunity for mindfulness, problem-solving, creative thinking, and more.

This therapy is rooted in the Japanese practice of “Shinrin-yoku,” which is often translated as “forest bathing.” Don’t let the name fool you; a heavily wooded trail isn’t required. The basic idea is to get outside and simply spend time in nature while unplugged from technology. Walk in any natural setting — a nearby park or trail, away from the city towards nature. The goal is to be fully present in the moment while bathing your senses in the outdoors. Observe how the clouds move, and the trees sway in the wind. Allow your mind and senses to wander and explore.

Benefits of Spending Time in Nature

  • Upregulates mood, decreases stress and anxiety
  • Promotes compassion and better connectedness with others
  • Increases energy and promotes better sleep, especially when your eyes are exposed to sunlight early in the day
  • Protects against obesity and diabetes by decreasing glucose and increasing adiponectin
  • Decreases the risk of heart attack by reducing cortisol, blood pressure, and pulse rate
  • Upregulates immunity, speeds healing, and decreases the risk of cancer by increasing natural killer cells   
  • Decreases inflammation throughout the body by breathing in fresh oxygen produced by plants and trees that also release anti-inflammatory compounds, like D-limonene and terpenes

While some are inclined to avoid time outdoors when the weather is inhospitable, I want to encourage you to challenge yourself. Our still primitive genomes were designed to strive, which in turn helps us thrive. A daily walk in nature can provide the opportunity to harness the power of hormesis — repeated exposure to mild stressors that ultimately strengthens, increases resiliency, and promotes longevity. Relish the challenge and earn a sense of accomplishment by getting out there. If you’re unused to inclement weather, be sure to dress appropriately and start by taking short walks, that over time can turn into glorious treks through nature.  

I purposefully wrote this blog during this winter season to inspire you to get outside now. Our high temperatures have been in the single digits this week, and my walks along the shores of Lake Michigan have never been more beautiful. I find tremendous peace, solitude, and strength by getting out there, immersing myself in nature. Now, more than ever, I want the same healing for each of you. 

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