A walk in the woods helps both the body and mind

Finding time to enjoy the mild fall season is a great way to de-stress and get some physical activity.

The fall season is a perfect time to take a walk in the woods.  If you live near the woods you know the joy of the smells and colors as the leaves are turning their true colors of gold and red.  If you are in an urban area, you might have to drive, or bike, to nature areas and trails.  Michigan State University Extension recommends making such as trip as it will be well worth the time to nourish the mind with the serenity and beauty of nature.

As you walk in the woods you will feel the crisp, damp or breezy air.  Notice the sounds of your feet stepping on twigs and leaves, the sounds of animals and birds rustling through the brush, streams gurgling, and the many different bird calls.  Pick up pine cones and colorful leaves on your way to use for fall décor.  You night be able to identify several wild plants and flowers or perhaps berries.  Notice the many shapes and sizes of plants, leaves and trees. 

Stress affects our physical health in so many different ways. Letting stress build without finding healthy ways to reduce it can pose a greater risk of negative health conditions as a result of chronic stress.  Both vigorous physical activity such as running or other sport, and gentle activity like yoga or tai chi can alleviate physical responses to stress.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, “your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain, sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.  Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.”

Also, “The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at an increased risk of numerous health problems, including: anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, as well as memory and concentration impairment.”

Physical activity can be a great way to lower our stress level, because it is one way to lower stress induced hormones and at least for a time, leave some of the pressures of living aside.  Some people use running, biking or other workouts at the gym to reduce stress, while others find activities like yoga, tai chi and walking to be a good way to release tension.  Getting out and into the woods can be a calming, cleansing and even a spiritual experience that leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to take on another day.  You can read many more ways to reduce stress and improve relationships at the MSU Extension website.

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