9 ways walking outdoors can be a tonic for your mind, body and mood

Excerpt: Spring offers many opportunities to walk outdoors in a variety of natural settings, which can boost your physical and mental health. Studies shows walking in nature can help to keep your heart fit, calm your mind, lift your mood, lower anxiety, and ease chronic pain. Walking outdoors also supports brain health by sharpening your thinking and judgement, preserving memory, and reducing dementia risk.

Spring offers many opportunities to walk outdoors in a wide variety of natural settings to enjoy the sights and smells of flowers, shrubs and trees coming into bloom. A growing number of studies show how regular walking and exposure to nature have powerful, synergistic benefits for the physical and mental health of older adults.

In fact, doctors in British Columbia, Ontario and some other provinces can now prescribe a free pass to Canada’s national parks as a nature prescription to encourage patients to spend time outdoors to manage anxiety and improve mental and physical health.*

Here are some ways walking and spending time in nature can help sharpen your mind, strengthen your body, and lift your mood:

  1. Keep your heart fit. Participants in outdoor walking groups lowered their blood pressure, total cholesterol, and body fat, and improved physical functioning and fitness,* reported a British Journal of Sports Medicine study. The social aspect of walking groups helps to encourage regular physical activity and adherence as well.
  2. Calm your mind. People who walked for 90 minutes in a grassland area, scattered with oak trees and shrubs, showed reduced activity in a prefrontal brain region active during rumination (repetitive negative thoughts), compared to people who walked in a high-traffic urban setting,* found a Stanford University study. Walking in nature can help buffer against depression.*
  3. Soak in green space to ease pandemic anxiety. People who spent more time outdoors in parks and other green spaces during the pandemic experienced less anxiety and depression than those who spent more time indoors,* reported a PLOS One study.
  4. Preserve episodic memory. A 2022 Communications Medicine study found older adults who walked, or did other aerobic activities, three or four times a week improved episodic memory,* which involves remembering past events.
  5. Lift your mood. Walking through a forest eases anxiety and lifts mood, reduces feelings such as anger and fatigue, activates the body’s relaxation response, and boosts immunity,* according to a Psychology Today review of recent studies.
  6. Sharpen thinking and judgement. Older adults performed better on executive function tasks such as thinking, reasoning and problem-solving on days when they were physically active,* reported a University of California San Diego study.
  7. Ease joint pain from arthritis. Walking regularly can reduce arthritis-related pain and help to prevent arthritis,* advises Harvard Medical School.
  8. Lower dementia risk. A 2022 study in Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that the autopsied brain tissues of older adults who moved more – walking, doing yardwork or household chores – had stronger connections between brain cells that helped protect them against the effects of toxic proteins that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.*
  9. Be more creative. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60% walking outdoors in fresh air compared to sitting indoors,* reported a Stanford University study.

Chartwell Retirement Residences offers a wide range of recreational programs and environments that encourage residents to be physically active, including walking clubs and outdoors paths.