News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Walking Improves Physical Health, Where You Walk Can Improve Mental Health
Research suggests that walking in natural settings is better for an individual's mental health than walking through urban centers or suburbia.

According to the CDC, 145 million adults now include walking as part of a physically active lifestyle. New research suggests that the location of these walks could be equally important to an individual's health as the exercise itself. Murray State University professor, Michael Bordieri, Ph.D., visits Sounds Good to discuss the best locales for walking. 

Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that can increase cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, strengthen bones and improve balance, increase muscle strength and endurance, and reduce body fat. Walking is a relatively accessible exercise, as a membership to a gym or specific piece of equipment is not required, and it can be done almost anywhere. However, carefully selecting a walking location could be just as conducive to increased overall health.

"People who walk in nature experience some differences [from those] who do the same amount of walking, but in urban centers or suburbia. One of the big things has to do with our mind. Folks who walk in nature tend to show less rumination, less likelihood to get stuck in thoughts, [to] spend time going over and over thoughts again. Folks who are out in nature seem to spend less time doing that," Bordieri explains. These changes are not only felt in the individual, they can be seen via neuroimaging. 

A group of scientists from Stanford, CA conducted an experimentin which 38 individuals completed a self-report measure of rumination (or RRQ) and underwent a brain scanning procedure. Then, 19 individuals were randomly assigned to a 90 minute walk in a natural environment, and 19 individuals were randomly assigned the same walk in an urban environment. The scientists found that "participants who went on a 90 minute walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment."

Bordieri explains that while "we're pretty good at quantifying the benefits, we're not entirely sure why they're there." There could be multiple explanations for why walking through nature is more beneficial than walking through urban areas. "There's some research suggesting individuals have a greater sense of spirituality, or a sense of something bigger than themselves, in natural settings. So, it could be that spending time in these spaces really is fundamentally changing some psychological processes where they get a grander sense of the world. Maybe their problems seem somewhat less significant in the light of a bigger perspective," Bordieri says. Other factors, such as pollution, traffic, and clogged or unsafe walkways could also explain why urban environments don't produce the same psychological benefits. 

While existing research focuses on the difference between urban and natural areas, it does not account for locations in the middle of these two extremes, such as rural towns or smaller cities not classified as 'urban,' like Murray. "Future researchers really need to parse out what exactly we're looking for," says Bordieri. "In general though, looking from the experience of participants and some studies that looked qualitatively at this, folks report sort of greater benefits when they're more surrounded by nature or immersed in that setting. So I think it's safe to assume, yeah, trails in LBL [Land Between the Lakes], or it could be as simple as an arboretum, or many cities now are doing green spaces. Hopkinsville has the Greenway -- spaces even within the city that give a natural setting really can offer something that maybe is more powerful than just a walk down city streets." 

"One nice piece about this is the exercise doesn't really have to be intense. Researchers in the UK also looked at intensity of exercise and what they found is the biggest health benefit, the dose response, was on low intensity exercise. Not power walking, not trail walking, not running ultra-marathons in the woods, but even just going for a really simple stroll can confer many of the positive effects. The strongest effect was found for folks who just got into that low intensity category. I think what's nice here is that this really is an accessible benefit for most of us. Even getting out and going for short walks at a slow pace can confer a benefit that, really, we could all find in areas around where we are," Bordieri says. 

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
Related Content