Changing the conversation about health

Walk yourself happy: How nature helped TV presenter Julia Bradbury’s recovery from cancer

Getting outside, into nature offers so much for the mind, body and soul – it can boost your immune system, lift your spirits and speed up your recovery.

It’s not a new phenomenon – the healing power of nature has been used for thousands of years. And it’s something that Julia Bradbury discovered for herself two years ago.

No one ever wants to hear the words “you have cancer”. But if you do – those three words will change life as you once knew it. Nothing will be the same again.

“I don’t just admire and enjoy nature: my real obsession is walking in it, using its healing powers to strengthen my body and soothe my mind.” Julia Bradbury (Photo: David Venni)

It was in the late summer of 2021 that Julia heard those words – in her case it was breast cancer. With a young family at home, Julia instantly knew that she had to fight it with all that she could. Following a single mastectomy, time out in nature became an important part of Julia’s road to recovery.

Initially walking around the back garden, progressing on to the local park and then back out onto the hills of the Peak District with her family at her side. 

Julia tells the College of Medicine: ‘I don’t just admire and enjoy nature: my real obsession is walking in it, using its healing powers to strengthen my body and soothe my mind.’

One of the key benefits of being out in nature, especially around trees, are the phytoncides that are in the atmosphere. They’re volatile organic compounds that act as the tree or plant’s first line of defence against predators (insects, fungi, disease).

You don’t need expensive kit or a trainer to walk in nature, just your own two feet, says TV star Julia (Photo: Pixabay/Jplenio)

When we absorb the phytoncides into our system, which we predominantly do through the sense of smell, they have been proved to boost our NK (natural killer) white blood cell count – a key element of our innate immune system.

What’s more – if you spend 3-4 hours out in a natural environment, your NK cell count can remain elevated for up to 28 days. This was discovered through a study by Dr Qing Li in Japan in the early 1980’s – and became the basis of the practice of Shinrin Yoku or forest bathing as it’s better known in the western world. 

Julia’s journey has been more than just time out walking – she has overhauled her diet, cut back on alcohol, increased her mindfulness practices (including daily breathwork) and ensures she gets good quality sleep every night.

These practices, and more, form the basis of her latest book, Walk Yourself Happy, which was published in September 2023. Working with experts in their respective fields, Julia takes you through small changes that will make your life that little better, happier and healthier. 

Says Julia: “The thing about walking is that you don’t need fancy kit or lots of money, a check sheet or a team leader. You don’t need a high level of physical fitness or talent. Ego and ambition can be left at home.”

That’s the great thing about this book – they’re changes that everyone can make without the need for any expensive equipment. Perhaps getting a house plant if you’re unable to get outside as often as you’d like, learning to control your breathing (reducing the number of breaths you take in a minute) or aiming for 10 steps more than yesterday – it all starts to add up and makes a difference. 

What are you waiting for? Take that first step today.

Walk Yourself Happy is available to purchase online and at all good bookshops.

For inspiration of where to go for a walk – please visit The Outdoor Guide, a website for all things walking that was created by Julia Bradbury and her sister, Gina.

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