Hello fall, it is so good to see you again, and to walk in a forest of brilliant colors and earthy, pungent aromas.
An American Cancer Society study showed that “women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week.” Walking is also proven to boost immune function during cold and flu season. A Harvard Medical study found that people who walked at least 20 minutes a day 5 days a week had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. When the study participants who walked more did fall ill, they recovered in a shorter amount of time than the non-walkers, and suffered milder symptoms.
In Japan, the practice of forest bathing, “Shinrinyoku,” has shown that a walk in the woods has far more benefits than just increasing blood flow, but also absorbing nutrients from the forest air. A study by the National Institute of Health showed that individuals who took a three-day vacation walking in the forest retained immune boosting molecules from the forest for over 30 days, as opposed to people who took a three-day vacation walking around a city. Specifically, the airborne phytoncides of evergreens rich in antioxidants and vitamin C provide a natural immunity boost that can last for weeks. The published study can be accessed here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/
Walking at any time of the year has health benefits, but walking in fall weather has the added benefit of colorful scenery and the unique smell of autumn. As the days shorten and the trees prepare for a long winter nap, their leaves release a symphony of smells: primarily gases stored in the pores of their stomata. Rachel Herz, author of “The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell,” and an expert on the psychology of smell, recently explained to Radiolab that scent is much more than just molecules sensed through the nose and taste buds. “Scent is a confluence of what we are seeing, hearing, and feeling, emotionally and physically.” Ergo, the smells of autumn are not experienced through a pumpkin spice candle, but by a walk in the woods with all the senses experiencing the sight of an autumn sun glistening through golden foliage, the smell of decaying organic matter, the sound of a light breeze flowing through trees and tall grasses, and touching the trees and leaves with a brush of fingertips.
The long-known mental benefits of walking are evidenced in our language. Turns of phrase reveal a turning of the mind’s wheels: “walk it off,” “walk the talk,” “a walk to clear the mind.” Even the linguistics of speech explain the mental benefits of a stroll through nature. The Wenatchi term, Nxwenax wenanamx, is used to express “footprint” and “to comprehend and to understand.” In Latin, the phrase solvitur ambulando, translates as, “it is solved by walking.” Walking is good for both body and soul, understood in languages older than our own.
Walking, in the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”