We can all agree the last couple of years have been stressful. In fact, anxiety levels are up over 25% since 2019. As with many conditions, nature can help heal our anxiety. That’s why my team and I set out to create a free program for anxiety. It includes a daily mental health walk–but not a normal one. We’ve hacked it so it’s easier and more effective!
The challenge: find the easiest way for people to use nature in order to decrease their anxiety levels
The solution: creating My Nature Dose, a free ten day walking plan for anxiety
But can stopping anxiety really be as easy as going for daily walks? Let’s dive into the science behind My Nature Dose and ways you can supercharge your walking routine.
Many studies have shown the positive impacts walking can have on our mental health:
- A 2018 study found that walking daily decreased levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stress in the study’s participants. It was also linked to improved overall mood when participants formed a consistent walking practice.
- A 2021 study analyzed how daily walks affected those living in a pandemic lockdown. The researchers found that participants who walked had better overall mood and less stress about world events.
- A 2019 study looked at two groups of participants–one who walked everyday and one who didn’t. The group who walked saw lower levels of stress, higher levels of resilience, and had a more positive outlook on life.
The key to getting the mental health benefits in many of these studies, however, is cultivating a consistent walking practice. If you’re stressed, it’s great to go outside for a quick walk. But if you want to lower your overall anxiety levels, it’s best to create a consistent walking routine.
My Nature Dose guides you through how to build a consistent walking schedule using psychological hacks to add a new activity into your current routine. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to replace 20 minutes of Netflix or social media scrolling with a walk most days of the week.
Along with creating a consistent walking practice, there are a couple hacks you can use to supercharge your walk.
Green Your Walk
While there are many mental health benefits to moving your body and walking in nature, there’s a secret you can use to supercharge your walk–get outside! Don’t only get outside, try to find the greenest space possible. In comparison to urban and suburban spaces, green spaces calm our body and lower our anxiety levels.
Even just being in nature can help your anxiety. A meta-review from 2019 suggested a positive correlation between time in nature and improved cognitive and emotional health, as well as other indicators of good mental health.
A 2014 meta-review specifically compared the mental health effects of urban and green spaces. The researchers concluded those who lived in green spaces had more indicators of good mental health than those in urban settings.
If we look at anxiety instead of overall mental health, time in nature halts rumination, negative thought patterns which are especially prevalent in folks with anxiety. A recent Stanford study showed significantly reduced rumination after a 90-minute walk in nature compared to a 90-minute walk through an urban environment.
Blue Your Walk
Along with greening your walk, consider “blueing” your walk. Walking near blue spaces can help calm your nervous system, further lower rumination, and give you something beautiful to look at while walking.
This is especially true if you live in an urban space and can’t head somewhere green. A 2018 cross-sectional analysis of those who walked in an urban space in Germany found that walking near blue spaces increased their overall mood and lowered stress levels.
Bring Your Dog
Dogs are a human’s best friend–and they love to go on walks with you! Not only will you make your dog happy by bringing them along for the walk, you’ll also lower your own anxiety levels!
There’s significant evidence to show those who own dogs live longer and are often healthier. But it’s not just dog ownership which causes these positive health changes, it’s walking your dog. A 2021 study found participants who went for daily walks with a dog had improved mental health. This included lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.
So go ahead–let the dog out and let yourself out with them!
Bring Your Friends
A great way to hold yourself accountable to your walking routine–and to get the added health benefits of socialization–is to bring your friends. Having a sense of community around walking increases the positive mental health benefits.
A 2020 study looked at the effectiveness of a peer-lead community walking group. The results? The program helps improve mental health as well as increased confidence, leadership capabilities, and self-esteem of participants.
One major aspect researchers pointed out about this program was the community-aspect. Feeling like you’re part of something bigger than yourself helps you stay consistent and leads to higher self-esteem and confidence. Luckily, My Nature Dose also includes a community aspect through the #MyNatureDose thread on Twitter and Instagram.
Another study from 2020 brought together three variables to supercharge your walk: walking in a group, walking in green spaces, and walking outdoors. When all three of these criteria were met, walkers experienced more mental health benefits.
Try Nordic Walking
While not a specifically part of My Nature Dose, Nordic Walking has been found to have increased mental health benefits as well. Nordic Walking includes walking with two walking poles (which look very similar to ski poles).
While many of the added benefits of Nordic Walking are physical, one 2013 study linked Nordic Walking to lower levels of anxiety and depression. It’s important to note there’s no substantial research on if it’s better for mental health than regular walking, but it is good for mental health nonetheless AND has increased physical health benefits when compared to regular walking.
Ready to get walking? AND want a program which allows you to supercharge your walking routine on autopilot? Consider My Nature Dose. It’s free to sign up and enrollment takes less than one minute. Find out more and register here.