Top reasons to walk in the rain

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England has just had the wettest 18 months since records began in 1836! Many days, we’ve all been holed up inside, unable to go out for our daily exercise because of the rain. So, it might surprise you to know that there are numerous health benefits from exercising and walking in the rain

There’s no such thing as bad weather – its time to take advantage of a rainy day.

  1. The benefits of clean air

As rain falls, it strips pollution from the air.  Atmospheric pollution is one of the greatest risks to human health. Rainfall lowers the amount of particulate matter in the air by up to 30%. If it’s also windy, these effects are magnified.

The term particulate matter means anything in the air that is not a gas. So this includes organic substances such as smoke, soot, soil and dust, as well as inorganic materials such as ammonium sulphate and ammonium nitrate, which come from fertilisers and sodium chloride, from seawater.

Each raindrop attracts large numbers of these tiny aerosol particles and washes them away, clearing the air and improving the quality of the air we breathe.

  1. Decrease stress and inflammation

Ever noticed the pleasant earthy smell of rain on dry earth? This is called the Petrichor effect. It’s caused by water hitting dry earth and causing the bacteria Streptomyces to produce a compound called geosmin. Humans are very sensitive to geosmin even in very small quantities, and a similar synthetic fragrance is now being added to some perfumes.

Geosmin can alleviate stress and have a calming effect. In a 2022 horticultural study, those handling soil containing Streptomyces had higher levels of the happy hormone, serotonin, as well as lower levels of the inflammatory marker, C- Reactive Protein (CRP). The treatment group was also noted to have increased alpha-band oscillatory activity in the occipital lobe. The significance of this is not known but it may correlate with cognitive function.

  1. Boosts the immune response

The ancient Japanese custom of forest bathing has been around since the 1980s. They have long recognised the benefits of walking in the woods and hugging trees. And rain should not put you off. The phytoncides are still there  – rain, hail or shine.

Trees are known to produce chemicals called phytoncides which boost the human immune system. Studies have shown that breathing these in raises the level of natural killer (NK) cells in the bloodstream. NK cells are lymphocytes which kill virally infected and cancer cells. Just one day of forest walking boosts NK cells by 40%.

  1. Walking in the rain burns more calories

We tend to walk or run faster in the rain—probably because we want to get home more quickly!

In a 2015 sports study, a group of men were asked to run in a climatic chamber in a simulated rain or no rain environment. Those who ran in the rain had significantly higher levels of adrenaline and lactate than those who ran without rain, implying they had worked their muscles harder. Walking in the rain will help with weight loss.

  1. You feel better

Many people feel a mental uplift from walking in the rain. Taking notice of the wet earth and nature around you can help shift your perspective on life.

Walking boosts levels of endorphins – substances that give the brain a natural high – whether you walk in the sun or the rain. Endorphins are thought to be responsible for the runner’s high.

  1. Negative ions

Air ions are electrically charged molecules. A negative ion has gained an electron, whereas a positive ion has lost one. Rainfall tends to generate negative ions.

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Research is accumulating that negative ions are good for human health. They appear to increase the flow of oxygen to the brain and make you feel more alert and less drowsy.

One in three of us is extra sensitive to negative ions. If so, you are someone who feels instantly better when they throw open the window and breathe in fresh air.

Final thoughts on walking in the rain

Walking in the rain doesn’t seem appealing, but when you think about it, there are many additional health benefits. From lifting our spirits to calming anxiety and boosting the immune system, walking in the rain does us good. We shouldn’t let the rain stop us from getting our 10,000 steps a day.

Here’s a phrase I keep remembering – ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes!’ So why not dig out your raincoat, put up the hood and get out, even in the rain? Getting a bit wet never hurts anyone.

  • Where will you be walking today – in the rain?

This article originally appeared in openaccessgovernment.org

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