The title of this blog may lead you to believe I’m about to offer a review of the current movie, A Walk in the Woods, based on the book of the same name by Bill Bryson. If that is what you were hoping I’m afraid I will disappoint you, although I will say I thoroughly enjoyed both the movie and the book. Instead I want to use this opportunity to encourage you to take a walk in the woods. For practically my whole life I have enjoyed spending time in the woods. For the last couple of decades I’ve escaped to the woods whenever time allowed to either hike or photograph. It has only been in the last month that I have started making a deliberate effort to walk in the woods every day. I am glad that I’ve done so for a variety of reasons.
There are certainly physical benefits that come from walking in the woods. I desperately need to lose some weight and this was what originally led me to begin walking every day at nearby John James Audubon State Park. I have a treadmill at my home but I’ve never been able to use it regularly for long periods of time, primarily because I find it terribly boring. I always dreaded getting on the treadmill. Walking in the woods has proven to be an altogether different story. I look forward to my time there each day. I’ve already lost ten pounds and am hoping that I’ll be able to lose a lot more. Losing weight, however, is only one physical benefit of walking in the woods. Various studies have shown doing so may help prevent cancer and that the scents of the forest (think pine, fir, cedar and cypress trees) can help reduce stress. I’m not sure I understand how but some studies suggest walking in the woods aids memory retention and learning. Another study indicates that walking in the woods helps lower blood pressure to a greater degree than walking in an urban setting.
There are also mental health benefits to be gained by taking a walk in the woods. Earlier this year a study led by Gregory Bratman was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that indicated that walking in the woods, even for a short duration, can decrease the pattern of thinking that is associated with the onset, in some cases, of mental illness like depression. The focus of this study was rumination, that pattern many of us have of reminding ourselves of all the bad things that are going on in our life. The study revealed that there is a change in brain activity that occurs when people walk in a natural setting that does not occur in an urban setting that is quite beneficial to mental health.
In addition to having both physical and mental benefits, I have discovered that a walk in the woods also has spiritual benefits. Like many others, I feel a closeness to God when I am in the woods. Being surrounded by God’s Creation leads me to a greater awareness of the Creator’s presence. I have also found that the time I have alone in the woods as I walk is a great time to pray. My walks typically last between forty minutes and an hour. Most of that time is spent praying. In my everyday work life I find it hard to set aside that much time to pray. Thus, by walking in the woods my prayer life has been enhanced. Furthermore, as I have noted in another recent blog, I find that there are lots of spiritual lessons to be learned just by observing God’s Creation. With good reason both the wise writer of Proverbs (6:6, 30:24ff) and Jesus himself (Matthew 6:26, 28) encouraged us to pay attention to the natural world around us.
With all of this in mind, I do want to encourage you to take a walk in the woods. I realize that may not be possible for everyone but if you are physically able and have access to a good natural setting to walk in do it. There are physical, mental and spiritual benefits just waiting for those who will take the time to do so. That I know for a fact.
(In order to get the full benefits of my daily walks in the woods I do not take my camera with me. The pictures used above are, however, images I’ve captured at John James Audubon State Park here in Henderson, KY, and are typical of what I see each day.)