Discover why walking in nature is beneficial for improving your gut health and soothing your stomach, and how different destinations can help diversify your gut’s good bacteria.

Lower your stress levels

‘Always remind yourself your body is a part of nature, so a walk outside is intrinsically therapeutic – including for your gut health,’ says Abigail Ireland, a nutritionist and peak performance strategist (abigailireland.com). ‘When your nervous system is calm, your gut health prospers. But if you’re stressed, your body triggers “fight or flight” mode, which directs its attention away from digestive processes, leading to bloating and indigestion.’ Researchers from the University of Regina in the US say just five minutes of exploring or viewing “nature scenes” calms this parasympathetic fight or flight response and activates rest and digest mode, so step out for a stroll if you feel your stress levels rising.

Improve your bacteria for good gut health

Regular exercise restores the balance of good gut bacteria by up to a whopping 40 per cent, according to researchers from Rutgers University in the US. ‘In particular, walking increases levels of the phylum Bacteroidetes, which are associated with improved metabolic health and protection against obesity,’ says nutritionist, Dr Maroula Natsi. It’s also been found that people with lean body mass have more of the species Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis and Akkermansia muciniphila in their microbiome make-up. ‘What’s more, exercise reduces populations of bacteria associated with Type 2 diabetes and inflammation,’
adds Dr Natsi.

Get the benefits of nature

‘Research indicates that children growing up in microbe-rich environments, such as on farms, have more diverse gut microbiota and experience better health,’ says nutritionist Abigail Ireland. But you don’t need to relocate to the countryside to reap the benefits; simply switch up your rambling routes. ‘Walking in nature is so beneficial, because you’re exposed to a larger variety of microbes and bacteria than you’d otherwise come into contact with,’ adds Abigail. ‘These create diversity in your gut microbiome, promoting a healthier internal environment and a stronger immune system.’

Breathe in goodness

Wherever you roam, if there are plants around, there are beneficial bacteria to be found! Phytoncides are plant- derived compounds that are inhaled or absorbed through your mouth or skin when you walk through parks, fields, or woodland. These increase the activity of immune cells in your gut, according to research from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo. The cells remain active for up to five days after exposure, firing up your energy and lowering blood pressure as your digestive system remains calm. The phytoncides in pine oils in particular can help you relax as the plant oils activate your parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress and improve
digestion.

Find out about more ways to help your gut health.