Walk outdoors when you can for important health benefits

Walking outdoors is good for your physical health (like boosting vitamin D production and balancing your sleep cycle), while relieving stress and helping you feel happier. With so many people stuck at home and inside for most of the day, it’s more important than ever to get outside when you can. Green spaces and natural settings boost both the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor walking, so seek them out when possible. While in-home cardio and light exercise is more important now than ever, outdoor walking is the best way to get in a brisk walk and get steps in bunches.

Read on for why outdoor walking is important to relieve stress, feel great and stay healthy, plus ideas on where to find some outdoor walking free of large crowds.

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Note: Make sure to follow your local guidelines on where, when and if it’s safe and permitted to get out and walk (or drive). If you need to get your steps at-home, here are some useful tips.

Health benefits of walking outdoors

Active senior nordic walking in a grassy park
Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

Walking outdoors gives you amazing physical and mental health benefits. Sciencedaily reports that people who spend more time in green spaces have lower risks of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even premature death. Walking in nature means you’re breathing in crisp, oxygenated air that leaves you energized and wanting to walk more. Spending time indoors, on the other hand, has been linked to health problems, depression, and other issues.

This effect may be because exposure to natural settings reduces stress. A 2013 study in Environmental Science & Technology found that after inducing a stressful situation, viewing nature scenes reduced stress faster and more effectively than viewing buildings and other man-made settings. Left unchecked, stress can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, and other dangerous health conditions. Stress and anxiety are an even bigger problem given the current situation, and being able to get in a brisk walk while relieving stress can be a game changer.

Walking in nature is fun and rewarding as well. As you take in the ever-changing scenes of nature, squirrels playing in the leaves, the vibrant plumage of birds nesting or the beauty of plants and trees, your walk becomes less exercise and more delightful entertainment. With deeper, more effective breathing and the calming intake of natural stimuli, you can expect your stresses and worries slowly start to slip away.

Another benefit of being outdoors is the beneficial effects of taking in sunlight. While UV rays can damage the skin, exposure to sunshine allows our bodies to produce vitamin D  – which is important for health. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, vitamin D helps stop abnormal cells from multiplying and also helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. Because people are spending more time inside, and covering up or using sunscreen when out, it’s quite possible to be vitamin D deficient. While certain foods contain or are fortified with vitamin D, simply being out in the sun is the best way to for your body to produce vitamin D.

Get a good, brisk walk while staying isolated

Woman nordic walking in a green park
Jacek Chabraszewski / Shutterstock

Getting outdoors in a natural setting is one of the best ways to get your 10,000 steps while easily staying distant from others. Due to social distancing measures, gyms and other indoor walking locations may be closed or more difficult to access. It’s not as easy to socially distance in a dense, urban environment, but a large park or a nature trail provides ample opportunities to walk without a person anywhere near.

While it is possible to do a large amount of in-home cardio, it’s simply easier to get your steps with more room to walk. A nature trail gives you the ability to speed walk or do an interval walking workout. While it’s not always easy to get out into nature, there’s likely a green space that you can find somewhere near where you live. With some planning, you can maximize your outdoor time and get steps in bunches. Combine that with in-home exercises and you can stay as fit as possible.

Now is the Time to Explore the Outdoors

Woman fitness walking on a park walking track
Focus and Blur / Shutterstock

As shopping malls and indoor tracks may be closed or difficult to access, you may be looking for another place to get in your daily walk without exposing yourself to crowds or indoor spaces. Being outdoors is ideal because you’ll have more room to walk and a greater variety of trails to choose from. Unlike running on a treadmill, as you jog a path, you have the option of moving as far as you feel comfortable from others or even choosing lesser used trails to prevent close contact with other persons.

Places to Go

Here are some ideas to help you to keep up your good walking habits without compromising your health or safety.

The Path Less Taken

Some parks offer both paved trails and dirt hiking trails. You may find the off-road trails may be less crowded, while dirt trails can often be softer on your feet and joints than hard pavement. While you will need to take care with your footing when the ground may be uneven, you can see some amazing natural sights. A leisurely walk through nature may be just what you need, especially if you’re stuck inside most of the week.

Do make sure to stay safe if you’re walking very far off the beaten path. Let a friend or relative know where you’ll be and when you expect to return. You can also use Pacer’s Live Tracking function to share your location with a safety contact.

Getting to Know Your Neighborhood

If you live in a less densely populated area, you might be able to get out and walk around your neighborhood without encountering a large number of people. If your area is a bit more crowded, an early morning walk or walking in the evening after dinner are ideal times where there should be fewer people out and about. You do want to make sure that you follow low-light walking safety recommendations in addition to following your local safety guidelines.

Find your new nature walking area

Many people have always wanted to find a beautiful hiking area, nature preserve or park to walk in but haven’t had the time or never got around to scouting one out. Use this time to see what is available within driving (or walking) distance from your home. You may discover that a nearby park can be the perfect weekend or off-day walking location in the future even when you’re able to get back to your tried and true walking paths.

Wherever you choose to go, getting out of stale indoor air and delighting your eyes with a needed change of scenery can keep things fresh and keep you getting in those steps each and every day.

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