In these days where we are rightfully concerned about our physical well-being and making sure that we take care of our immune system getting enough sleep is a very important aspect of that. Considering that last statement, how do we find ourselves beginning a post titled “When you are tired, go for a walk”? That is a great question. We are going to explore several reasons for doing just that as I share both a story and pictures of a recent walk that I went on. This walk itself followed an eight-hour work day that began at 5 am and followed a night of little or no sleep. As you can imagine, I was very tired. What would prompt me to take that time to go for a walk?
My mother and I routinely go for walks through nature. Being that the period for good weather here in Wisconsin, where we live, is short, we do our best to take advantage of every good day. As I write this, the temperature has dropped and Autumn is setting in. Soon, the snow will fall and walking will become more of an adventure and less of a relaxing stroll. Back to our day in question. I had just completed a shift at my day job working 5am to 1pm. This was day 10 of working 13 in a row. Although I was certainly feeling tired, the sunshine and pleasant late summer weather was calling me. On my way home I spoke with my mother by telephone. She informed me she planned on going for a walk through the woods on a new path she had discovered.
My mother agreed to pick me up, as she knew where this path was to be found. A short drive later we arrived at our starting point behind a large hospital complex. This space was formerly used as the Milwaukee County Asylum/Hospital for the Insane as it was called. It was shuttered in 1914 in light of questionable practices as well as a more modern venue with updated treatments for those with mental health conditions. Knowing this, the woods often take on a somewhat haunting ambience. Not in a bad way, but as if they have secrets to be shared that can only be discovered by exploring their sun-dappled paths. There is even a marker letting you know that buried in the grounds are the remains of over 200 souls that had no friends or family to claim them. Before we left, my mother and I stopped at this marker to offer thoughts and prayers for the souls of these individuals.
We enjoy walking for its many health benefits. When it comes to a good walk, there are a multitude of physical benefits. It is great for your heart. By walking you bring up your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and help circulation. Walking can also help you shore up your bones, lose weight, strengthen your muscles, improve your sleep and help your joints. Certainly, all of these are great reasons to walk and are some of the benefits we are chasing. However, by choosing this path and others in nature there are other reasons we are walking. Back to more reasons for walking this fine day. Often, our feelings of physical exhaustion can really be an outward display of emotional and spiritual exhaustion.
Walking in nature has many additional emotional as well as health benefits you cannot even find walking at the gym or throughout the city. That is because different parts of our brain are activated when we walk in nature. Some of the benefits you can see are helps control depression, reduces anxiety, helps battle cold and flu, speeds recovery time after sickness and makes you happy. Why is this? Science is still working to discover exact answers. In a 2015 study researchers compared the brains of healthy people who walked 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found significantly lower activity in the prefrontal cortex of those who walked in nature. That is the part of the brain that is active during rumination or repetitive focus on negative thoughts.
As if all of these benefits were not enough, there is even more. Nature sounds such as frogs, birds and just the sound of the wind through the trees help reduce blood pressure as well as cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. In addition, visual focus on greenery and natural settings seem to distract your mind from focus on negative thoughts. How much nature is enough, you may ask. It is recommended to try for 30 minutes in nature 3 days a week. This can be trip to the beach, a walk through the local park or even a camping trip on the weekend. Combining the physical health benefits of walking and the emotional and spiritual benefits of nature, you will find yourself feeling tired but refreshed at the conclusion of your journey.
I hope you enjoyed the photos I shared with you in this post from my walk with my mother through Sanctuary Woods as they are called. I encourage you to find a natural place near you to explore a few days a week. You will find rewards of both the spiritual as well as physical. What if you are unable to escape due to factors beyond your control? Science tell us that by listening to nature sounds and looking at pictures of natural settings can help offer some of the benefits you may get from being in the environment itself. You would lose the physical benefits of walking as well as the fresh air you can smell in the woods, but something is better than nothing. I encourage you to share picture or stories of your escapes into nature.