Tired? Stressed? Down with another dose of the cold or piling on the pounds because the idea of hitting the gym’s about as appealing as a hearty kick in the heinie?

Before you go ransacking the shelves of your local CVS or signing yourself up for the latest faddish diet to befall your Instagram feed, why not try a lesser-touted cure that may just have you feeling peachy and in shedding poundage in no time: nature.

Skeptical? We thought you might be. To help convince you, we’ve compiled a list of 8 scientifically-proven physical effects that nature has on your body’s wellbeing. Our hope? That they’ll have you packing your bags and heading for the nearest hiking trail in a hurry!

1. Reduces Stress

If there’s one ailment almost all of us can expect to encounter at some points in our lives, it’s stress. And while the feeling alone is never fun, the ways in which our bodies communicate their need for some respite from stress-heavy living range from grim to the downright grave.

In the grim column of symptoms, we find lesser complaints like acne, diarrhea, constipation, forgetfulness, and headaches. In the grave column, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease, eating disorders, and strokes top the list.

Luckily, stress finds its kryptonite in the form of something that’s readily accessible to all of us-nature. Nature’s stress-slaying strengths have been praised by hikers, gardeners, fishermen, and other aficionados of undeveloped environments for years.

A 2009 study on the effects of forest bathing trips on humans, however, lent these longstanding layman’s claims scientific backing. It revealed that being surrounded by trees, natural scenery, and enjoying an hour or two of fresh air can greatly reduce levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, and have a calming effect on our bodies and brains.

Hiking in nature
Being surrounded by trees, natural scenery, and enjoying an hour or two of fresh air can greatly reduce levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, and have a calming effect on our bodies and brains. Photo by Dani Corona on Unsplash

2. Strengthens the Immune System

“Forest bathing” also impacts our body’s immune system. Japanese research on this demonstrated that the white blood cell count of study participants exposed to nature for 6 hours on 2 consecutive days increased significantly.

White blood cells, as you may know, are responsible for fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other foreign contaminants that find their way into the body.

3. Improves Cardiovascular Health

Hiking, in particular, offers an array of benefits to the human body, and one of the most notable is the ability to improve cardiovascular health.

Classified as a moderate cardiovascular workout, hiking increases your heart’s capacity to send blood and oxygen to the muscles. This helps prevent heart disease, avoid high blood pressure, and reduce cholesterol.

4. Improves Your Sense Of Balance

A recent Harvard study revealed that hiking’s about the handiest way there is to give your sense of balance a boost.

Negotiating rocky, muddy trails forces you to shift your body in ways that walking on regular paved surfaces simply can’t. (Not, at least, without the aid of gale-force winds and a tipple or two of something stiff before setting off from home!)

On long backpacking trips, moreover, all those added pounds you’ll be carrying will double (triple?) down on the strengthening of the balance-boosting muscles in your hips, ankles, knees, and your core. They’ll also develop all the smaller muscles in your feet, ankles, and lower legs that are rarely engaged on the daily stroll to the office or the store.

5. Increases Bone Density

Hiking is a weight-bearing exercise that places stress on your bones.

Now, before you go carting your femurs and fibulas off to the therapist or local meditation center, we should add that this kinda stress is the kind that you want.

The stress placed on your bones by your bodyweight when hiking, you see, actually helps to make them denser, stronger, less liable to breakage, and more resistant to diseases like osteoporosis.

6. Helps With Weight Loss

For the last century, give or take a few years, workout gurus around the world have been in eager pursuit of the Holy Grail of exercise plans. That is, one that combines calorie-burning capacity with something better than mind-numbing boredom. In most cases, their attempts have revealed that these qualities are mutually exclusive. We can have fun, or we can shed pounds. Doing both at the same time is, alas, a dream too far.

Or is it?

For a few years now, one group of fun-loving peeps have been having the time of their lives while whittling down their waist sizes, tightening their tummies, and building buns and calves of steel.

This group’s name? Hikers.

Depending on your metabolism rate and trail difficulty, a 160-pound adult can burn roughly 450 calories in one hour of hiking.

Good news, right?

Even better news is this…

Doing your hiking at altitude significantly increases your metabolism, thereby ramping up the rate of calorie burning to closer to the 700-per-hour mark for a 160-pound hiker.

7. Increase Vitamin D Uptake

Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D has been credited with a number of health benefits in various studies over the years. The most notable of these benefits include improving bone and blood cell health, increasing mineral absorption rates, bolstering the immune system, and even preventing osteoporosis and cancer.

Sound good?

Luckily, vitamin D’s principal delivery system isn’t any funky-tasting little pill, but the sun. Even more luckily, you don’t have to eat the big yella fella in the sky twice a day after meals to reap the benefits. All you have to do is spend a few hours in his company doing something nicely exposed to his vitamin-gifting glow.

8. Promotes Better Sleep

Multiple studies have revealed there’s no better way to sucker-punch sleeplessness than by spending a night or two under the stars.

Each of these studies highlighted a number of reasons to substantiate this lofty claim. They cited nature’s ability to reset our internal body clocks to their natural sleep cycle, the lack of stressors like artificial lights, screens, traffic, and city noise, and increased levels of melatonin, a hormone shown to help you fall asleep sooner and sleep more soundly.

Outdoor Living = Healthy Living!

Epic scenery, fresh air, the sounds and smells of mother nature, some well-deserved downtime from the noise of the city, the glare of your laptop screens, or the screams of your boss…

…the benefits of spending time in nature are manifold and multiform.

Now, knowing the physical benefits that might be reaped from time spent outside, we hope we’ve provided you with one more excuse that will convince you to spend more time there than ever before!

M. Özgür Nevres
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