Hiking could surely change your state of mind and even your brain!
While it may seem obvious that a good hike in the forest or mountain can cleanse the body and mind, science is discovering that hiking could actually change your brain... for the better!
According to a study, hiking would have many beneficial effects on our state of mind
Hiking in nature reduces rumination
Those who brood or focus on too many negative thoughts may experience anxiety, depression and other problems such as bulimia nervosa or post-traumatic stress disorder. In a recent study, researchers wanted to know if spending time in nature affects rumination and found that a trip to nature decreases these obsessive negative thoughts.
In this study, the researchers compared rumination reported by participants who had hiked in an urban environment or in the wilderness. They found that those who had walked for 90 minutes in the wilderness, a prairie environment near Stanford University, reported less rumination and also reduced neuronal activity in the subgenital prefrontal cortex, which is associated with mental illness. Those who had walked in an urban environment did not experience the same benefits.
These researchers explain that our world is becoming increasingly urban and that urbanization is linked to depression and other forms of mental illness. Clearly, moving away from an urban environment and spending time outdoors where there is less mental stress, less noise and fewer distractions can be beneficial to our mental health.
Walking in the wilderness encourages creative problem solving
According to a study by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer, creative problem solving can be enhanced by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. In this study, participants hiked in the wilderness for about four days and were not allowed to use the technology. They were asked to perform tasks requiring creativity and complex problem solving. They found that participants immersed in nature had a 50% increase in performance on problem-solving tasks.
Researchers indicate that technology and noise in urban areas continually take up our attention and prevent us from concentrating, affecting our cognitive functions. That's why when we feel overwhelmed by the constraints of urban life and 24/7 connections, nature walks can be a powerful medicine. They reduce our mental fatigue, soothe our minds and help us think creatively. They also can calm children who are having issues concentrating.
Hiking can be beneficial for children who have difficulty staying focused, hyperactivity disorders or problems with controlling their impulses.
In a study conducted by Frances E. Kuo, PhD and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, researchers found that exposing these children to "outdoor and natural activities" reduced their symptoms. Thus, according to this study, the benefits of exposure to nature can extend to anyone with symptoms of inattention and impulsivity. Doctors conclude that simple changes involving activities in nature can improve attention.
Hiking in nature is an excellent exercise that stimulates intelligence.
We all have heard the expression "a healthy mind in a healthy body". Hiking in the wilderness is an excellent form of exercise and can burn between 400 and 700 calories an hour, depending on the difficulty of the walk. The added benefit is that hiking is not as hard on our joints as other forms of exercise such as running. In addition, there is evidence that those who exercise outdoors are more likely to stick to their exercise programs, making hiking an excellent choice for those who are considering making exercise part of their daily life.
Mind and body are naturally connected. Exercise helps keeping our brain cells nourished and healthy. In fact, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, outdoor exercise can even improve memory and cognitive abilities. In the study, they found that outdoor exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus in older women. The hippocampus is a part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory.
Not only does exercise improve cognitive ability and may prevent its decline, as shown in the study, but it may also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and release endorphins (the hormones that promote well-being). It's amazing that a physical activity as simple and inexpensive as hiking can provide so many mental health benefits. Hiking is now prescribed by doctors.
Has your doctor ever told you to "go for a hike"? It's not a phrase we especially want to hear, especially from our doctor, but they actually have our well-being in mind. Progressive doctors are now aware that people who spend time outdoors suffer less stress and enjoy better physical health.
According to WebMD, more and more doctors are writing "nature prescriptions" or recommending "eco-therapy" to reduce anxiety, improve stress levels and combat depression. In addition, nature prescriptions are becoming more accepted by traditional health care providers as more and more research shows the benefits of exercise and time spent in nature.
The State of California is traditionally one of the most progressive states in the field of alternative health. For example, the Institute at the Golden Gate has led the fight to promote eco-therapy through its Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP) initiative. In this program, community-based organizations work with health professionals to improve the health of their parks, and to promote the use of parks as a means of regaining health for the people who come to them.
How do I get started hiking?
Fortunately, hiking is one of the easiest and cheapest sports, and it's fun and beneficial for the whole family. You can start with small steps. Discover the local short hiking trails and make sure you start at a safe and comfortable distance. You can find hiking guides by region, or online, and there are smartphone apps to help you find the best trails for your level and interests.