MU students who enjoy relieving stress by walking or running downtown, on a treadmill or on campus, may want to consider changing their exercise location. Research shows that running in rural areas, such as the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail, instead of near noisy cars or distracting shops and restaurants, can result in numerous health benefits.
Many students, such as sophomore computer science major Jordan Germer, have already discovered the benefits of spending time in nature. Germer is an avid outdoor runner who enjoys running in more rural areas, such as the Devil’s Icebox trail at Rock Bridge Park, as opposed to a treadmill or a track.
“I feel like I’ve got more room and more space to myself,” Germer said. “It’s peaceful and it helps me clear my mind.”
There are a number of reasons why students like Germer may enjoy exercising in rural areas. According to an article by Leyla Erk McCurdy, writer for the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), studies conducted with university students demonstrated the effects of a walk in nature versus a walk in an urban environment. Saliva samples from participants indicated an increased amount of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, after taking a walk in an urban area. There was a reduced amount of cortisol in participants’ saliva samples after walking in a rural area. In addition to the decrease in stress levels, this study also showed that walking in nature could have positive impacts on disposition and memory.
A second study on stress recovery, published in the 1991 Journal of Environmental Psychology, also confirmed that rural areas as opposed to urban areas could significantly reduce stress. During the study, subjects were tested in urban and natural areas. Data was collected that correlated with stress and blood pressure, such as heart period, muscle tension, skin conductance (the skin momentarily becomes a conductor of electricity due to emotion) and pulse transit time (a measure of pulse pressure), all of which indicate stress levels. The study found that recovery was much faster and more complete in a more natural area.
MU students can also offer anecdotal support of these studies’ findings. Junior journalism major Claire Fischer has had nothing but positive experiences when taking walks in nature.
“It allows you to clear your mind and relax more because you kind of get away from the things that cause you stress,” Fischer said. “It also allows you to see Columbia in a different way too, because you’re not so consumed in campus life.”
It’s not surprising that walking in nature has more positive effects than walking in more urban areas. Yet, time and time again, students are often still seen running through downtown, on campus or around Stankowski Field because these locations are convenient. Dropping temperatures also play a role in less motivation to head down to the trails. However, some students, such as sophomore textile and apparel management major Sarah Vida, still find the benefits of exercising in wooded areas outweigh the inconveniences, no matter the weather.
“I don’t like to exercise, but walking the MKT Trail makes me like to,” Vida said. “It’s really pretty out, and I like the cold as I walk.”
Rock Bridge Memorial Park is home to Devil’s Icebox, a unique trail just off of U.S. Highway 63 that is known for its breathtaking scenery. According to the Missouri State Parks website, the trail is mapped at over 7 miles. The name “Devil’s Icebox” originates from the cool and refreshing air that comes from the stream underneath the rock bridge of the trail. The park itself is a major attraction to students for many reasons, in addition to running or walking. And there are numerous trails, such as Shooting Star and the Karst Trail, in addition to the popular Devil’s Icebox.
The MKT Trail is a trail right off campus that brings relaxation to many students after a long day of classes. Due to its convenient location, it is one of the most popular trails for students in Columbia. The trail is mapped at about 8.9 miles and is a spur off of the much larger Katy Trail that runs through most of Missouri. The trailhead just off Providence Road is the most convenient for students walking there from campus. But there are additional trailheads in locations throughout the city.
Overall, the benefits of walking in a more natural environment certainly can’t be denied. Luckily, Columbia has plenty of popular parks and trails that are open for public use. For a full list of these trails, visit https://www.gocolumbiamo.com/ParksandRec/Trails/.