Happiness is just a few steps away
Oct. 6, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

It’s easy for us forget in this cynical world, but it is still true that the best things in life are free.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England confirmed what many of us already knew: walking is good for us.

They found that people who walked in nature at least once per week experienced positive emotions and less stress. In other words, they were happier.

The authors of the study recommend walking outdoors in nature at least three times per week to experience the maximum benefits.

It is not necessary to block out an hour or two to walk. That is good news for busy people. Short, frequent walks are just as effective as longer, less-frequent walks.

Walking is good for our physical health, and the study indicates it is good for our mental health, as well.

I didn’t need a study to figure that out.

Countless times, I have embarked on a jaunt in the woods and almost immediately felt tight-muscles begin to relax – muscles I hadn’t even realized were tight.

Experience tells me walking is good for the entire body.

Neck and shoulder muscles tend to carry a lot of stress, especially for those of us who spend too much time sitting at a desk working on a computer.

Even a short walk can help these muscles to relax.

I find that I am much more aware of my environment when I am walking.

We spend much of our lives in climate-controlled environments at home or at the office, and in-between, we travel in the steel and glass cocoons of our automobiles.

When I am walking, my hearing becomes sharper. Instead of blocking out activity around me, I begin to notice and identify a variety of sounds.

I hear the birds and forest creatures going about their business.

I hear things like the wind in the treetops, and branches rubbing together.

Underfoot, I feel the texture of the ground.

I can hear and feel my breathing. Let’s face it – I don’t hike as much as I would like to (or as much as I should), so I probably breathe more heavily than I ought to when I am out on the trail. Nonetheless, I can feel my lungs contracting and expanding. This goes on all day long, but I am oblivious to it most of the time.

One of the fun things about spending time outdoors is realizing that what might appear to be empty space is rarely empty.

There is a lot going on in nature. We just don’t notice much of it when we drive past at 55 miles per hour.

Walking gives us the freedom to stop and explore along the way.

It can be dangerous to do that on the highway, but it is generally safe when one is walking.

I am often amazed at the variety of textures, sounds, sights, and smells one encounters in nature.

I sometimes pause and close my eyes and try to identify the things around me just by their sound and smell.

Plants and trees each have their own aroma, and they combine to create a bouquet of fragrance on the breeze.

We might smell damp earth or standing water in a ditch.

Walking gets the blood circulating and gives us a dose of fresh air.

The health benefits of taking a hike in nature seem superior to the benefits of anything we can pick up at the pharmacy, and walking is free, with no co-pay and no maximum annual benefit.

We are fortunate to live in a state in which most of us can find a place to enjoy nature within minutes from our homes.

There are a wealth of parks, trails, lakes, and rivers just waiting to be explored.

There are health consequences to not walking enough, but I have not heard of anyone overdosing on walking.

It can improve our health, reduce stress, and make us happier. This combination makes hiking a sweet deal, and no membership fee is required.

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