Today is National Women’s Health and Fitness Day, and if there’s something we could all use a little more of, it’s health and fitness. I thought I’d talk about some new research out this week that will help you move toward greater mental and physical health. I’ve always found the most enriching activities to be those that blend fitness with fun and I haven’t found a better way to recharge my batteries than to get outside with a group of friends. A new study out this week looked at the ways nature walking can significantly impact mental health. The researchers wanted to see how the combination of an outdoor adventure with a social group setting would influence different measures of mood.
The research looked at a program in the U.K. that organizes group nature walks for the community in the hope of understanding the effects of the program on participant well-being. They found that participants had significantly lower levels of depression; less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being. Several individuals had experienced a significant and recent hardship in the form of the death of a loved one, a divorce, serious illness or recent unemployment. These individuals in particular experienced a significant mood boost after the walks.
I like this study because it points out how combining things we enjoy can add up to something that delivers benefits in a lot of different areas. Walking is great exercise and helps contribute to the weekly two and a half hour quota we all need to fight off disease. But when you do it outside with a group of friends, it doesn’t feel like exercise. Instead, it feels like a social event where you get to catch up with old friends, hear the latest on their lives and even get support for some challenges you may be going through. Adding nature into the mix layers on the soothing effects of the outdoors and natural settings.
Think outside the box when it comes to your health and fitness. Taking care of yourself doesn’t always have to feel like penance for prior unhealthy behavior. Getting others involved in your health and fitness goals will keep you motivated and make those goals more fun to achieve. And when you accomplish what you set out to, you have a group of supporters at the ready to celebrate what you’ve done. Including others in these activities also helps to strengthen your support network.As this study shows, having a regular, unstructured period of time to interact with other people provides a great outlet for the challenges you may be going through. It also provides an opportunity for you to help others who might be in need, which can lead to improvements in mood and well-being and give you a stronger sense of self-worth.
So next time you have to go to the gym, rent bikes with a group of friends and go for a ride somewhere instead. Catching up with an old colleague? Try a making a new recipe together rather than going out for dinner. There are many different combinations, but when you combine activities that feed your soul, you’ll end up doing something good for the mind and body.