The one practice that can reduce stress, improve health, and even make you smarter

A last minute trip to Utah the other week came at an unexpectedly good time. At home I was counting down the days (which wouldn’t move fast enough) to start a new project at work and the whole sweating on my morning commute thing was starting to get old.

I was excited to suspend real life, to trade in Philly’s steamy sidewalks for Park City’s mountain air. I knew the change in scenery, fresh air, and the hikes we had hastily planned would do a body good. Intuitively I had a sense - as I’m sure most of us do - that these things are good for us on a fundamental level. How good for us - and why - I really didn’t know.

Why hiking and exercise are just as important as nutrition in your wellness.

Just as I was leaving, I was bombarded with news about the perks of “forest bathing,” the newest Japanese practice to hit the States. Forest bathing is pretty much what it sounds like: immersing oneself in the forest atmosphere. Forest bathers believe there are numerous benefits to being among the trees, from reducing stress to enhancing creativity.

Forest bathing speaks strictly to being among dense greenery, but for years, study after study has shown that something about being - and specifically moving - outdoors is not only good for us, but may actually affect how the brain works (!). Researchers have yet to pin down what specifically what is responsible for the positive impact, but the rewards are undeniable: it’s good to move and it’s good to be outside, but moving among nature is by far the best thing we can do.

Being in nature:

  • Is calming
  • Sparks creativity
  • Lowers the incidence of psychological issues
  • Improves attention
  • Boosts mood
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Enhances memory
  • Might decrease blood pressure
  • Can lower stress
  • Reduces cortisol levels
  • Improves energy
Being physically active outdoors, such as hiking or walking, can make you healthier and happier. Here's why.

Our environment and how we spend time in it has a big impact on how we feel and operate. The practice of moving in nature couldn’t be more simple. Yet it’s one that I think is often neglected when we’re focusing on all of the many things that can make us well. We tend focus on the result, but not often the process. We miss the forest through the trees.

I am a city dweller and worker, but with this research in mind, and the beautiful mountainscapes of Utah still fresh in it as well, I’m wondering: is anyone up for a walk in the park?