A Walk In The Park, Great For Your Body And Soul

By Deborah Locke

Consider the mountainous forests of Laos and then consider the forested hills of a Minnesota state park. You may wonder what those two locations have in common, other than the fact that each exists on planet earth. Research shows they have a lot in common – both offer a positive impact on the health of humans.

Studies definitively show that the great outdoors improve people’s mental and physical health. A story in TIME magazine a year ago cited a study that found that if a person walked in a cedar forest for 40 minutes, their stress hormone cortisol lowered. That outcome didn’t occur if they spent 40 minutes walking on a treadmill in a lab.

Now consider this. Minnesota has 255,000 acres of land divided into 75 state parks and recreation areas, all teeming with ways to cut your stress level and make you feel better. Minnesota’s extensive system of state trails, state water trails and state forests can help, too. You need trees? We got trees. You want water? Your parks and trails have water, gorgeous scenery, and programs for children and adults. Just about every community in the state has a park, trail or forest within 30 minutes of home.

So the environment clearly contains the requisite trees and water and sun, but how does all that tie into better health? The Tokyo researchers mentioned in TIME magazine learned that trees and plants give off a compound that if inhaled, spurs healthy changes. For example, if someone walked through the woods or camped overnight in the woods, changes in their blood occurred that protected against cancer by increasing the number of white blood cells that support the immune system. That’s because in a forest, you inhale phytoncides, which help combat infections and curb inflammation.

Know also that it’s more than your muscles that benefit from that 40-minute walk through a beautiful outdoor environment. Studies also show that when you go out and walk through a park or forest, you are less likely to ruminate. Rumination is a hallmark of depression and anxiety, according to the July 2016 TIME story. If you walk down a city street, you won’t lessen your depression and anxiety the way it will lessen in a natural environment. Exposure to a 90-minute nature blast improves moods because parks and forests are often near moving water and moving water contains high levels of negative ions!

Why should a person get all happy about something that’s innately negative? It’s because those charged air particles, created by water, air, sunlight, and the Earth’s natural radiation, are especially concentrated during the summer. Scientists do not agree on why the negative ions impact the human body, but they do agree that negative ions help increase energy and improve mood.

Now consider this. Your 255,000 acres of Minnesota park land contain a lot of water, air and sunlight. This has all been a long way of saying, do check out a state park or trail near you! If you’re from the metro area and crave 40 minutes of a walk through quiet beauty, go to Afton State Park near Hastings or William O’Brien State Park near Stillwater. Drive a bit further north to Wild River State Park in Center City or Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls. Of course, Fort Snelling State Park near the MSP International Airport is practically in your back yard.

You’ll need a $7 day pass to get into the state parks and after that, nearly everything is free, from naturalist programs to equipment (fishing rods and tackle, GPS units, etc.) The state trails, state forests and state water trails are free.

Use ParkFinder, the events calendar and other trip-planning tools on the DNR website (www.mndnr.gov) to plan a day of outdoor recreation. You’re sure to find your own share of phytoncides and negative ions, learn new stuff, see amazing sites, and leave smiling.