Are you suffering from stress? Maybe it is time to clear your head and calm down. While the forest is essential for our entire ecosystem, it also does wonders to relax our mind and calm us down. Let us discuss some of the benefits of walking in the forest for a healthier mind, body and soul!
For all of Your Senses
More than a third of the US territory is covered by forest. In Canada it is around 40% and can reach 80% in some regions. A walk through the forest is a special experience. All senses are stimulated. If you listen closely, it rustles, swishes, chirps, cracks and twitters everywhere. If you draw the air deep into your lungs, the smells are also extremely diverse. They vary greatly depending on the type of forest. Forests with fir trees smell very different than those with broadleaf trees. And if a mushroom is nearby, experienced noses can also smell it.
Then comes the touch! Who recognizes the trees by feeling the bark with closed eyes? A young birch feels very different from an old oak. Opening the eyes again, we see a lot of green, which makes the mood rise and the pulse drop. On average, hospital patients who are allowed to look out into the countryside from their bed need much less care and painkillers than their fellow sufferers who only see bare walls in front of them.
And when you have hiked uphill through a forest and your eyes can wander unhindered above the tree line from mountaintop to mountaintop, the third dimension, the depth of space, is experienced in a breathtaking manner. Isn’t that a wonderful way to relax after staring for so long at the TV and computer screens?
The modern world of work and leisure primarily demands our senses of hearing and sight. A walk through the forest stimulates all other senses as well. When walking on leaves and moss you can almost smell the carpet you are walking on. You can feel the wind on your face and sense the fresh coolness of a spring. This stimulus to the senses is not felt to be unpleasant like the sensory stimuli of civilization with their loud and hectic excesses.
Hiking also stimulates our sense of movement. An entire network of nerve sensors controls and monitors our movement and orientation behavior. And what is used will be strengthened. Gradually, the joy of movement increases and demands more. This is particularly important for our children. In order to compensate the many sedentary activities, you absolutely need to find a balance when hiking in nature. A lot of children have lost interest in nature. Walks in the woods in particular are great for arousing children’s curiosity about the wonders of nature. However, this requires some preparation on the part of the adult companions. Who knows more than five wild herbs, birds, flowers or trees?
Space for Encounter
Basic social needs are also met when hiking. Most people go hiking with a companion. Wonderful conversations then arise quite casually. There is an openness that breaks down barriers in casual conversation, in an environment that is beneficial to health. Friendships are formed or strengthened along the way. Positive encounters with others activate our messenger substances so much that dopamine, oxytocin and endogenous opiates are increasingly released. All of these messenger substances help us to lead a happier and more satisfied life.
Furthermore, if someone can say: “The forest is my church”, the divine dimension is added. Experiences in nature bring us closer to our Creator. After all, HE gave us the task of preserving and using nature. If we strike up a happy song while hiking, we can even infect other hikers with our happy nature. I especially appreciate on the hiking experience the leaving, but also the arriving. When I leave, I free myself from everyday worries and obligations. I can empty my head, discover new perspectives in life, cast off role constraints, find experiences. Investing in experiences brings happiness, not investing in stuff.
And then arriving: the warm shower that washes away the sweat, stretching out comfortably on the sofa, the thought that you have now earned all this makes everyday life seem more attractive again. I have arrived back home or in the security of a shelter.
The forest offers something special in every season. In summer it is a blessing to hike in the forest. It protects us from the scorching summer sun. We experience an intense interplay of light and shadow. In autumn, it enchants our senses with a firework of colors. In winter we can read tracks in the snow and observe wildlife.
Trees that have shed their leaves have a special charm. They reveal their growth to us. We can almost read what experiences the tree has behind it. And in spring he promises us a new beginning, a new start, new growth and life.
If we look at the forest and hiking from the listed perspectives, we can give the forest a very special title: Doctor Forest. It virtually helps us to regain our health. Let us use it in this sense in the coming days and weeks! Happy hiking!
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Esther Neumann studied Nutrition at the University of Vienna. Since then she served as an author for the health magazine “Leben und Gesundheit” and conducted health lectures in various locations of Austria.