Apart from the almost immediate feeling of peace and complacency, which accompanies time spent outdoors, hiking in nature can also free your mind of obsessive thoughts. Many of us frequently find ourselves preoccupied with negative thoughts, which at best takes the enjoyment out of the moments we experience and at worst takes us down a path to depression and anxiety. However, a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered that spending time in nature can reduce these obsessive and negative thoughts significantly.
For the purpose of this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either urban or a natural environments. They discovered that those who walked in a natural environment for 90 minutes reported a reduced level of rumination and also had less neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain connected to mental illness. Those who hiked through an urban environment, however, did not report a decrease in rumination.
Researchers stated that increased urbanization closely interacts with increased cases of depression and other mental illnesses. Our psychological (as well as our physical) well-being can benefit a great deal from taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban surroundings and spending more time in nature.
A study carried out by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer discovered that creative problem solving can be significantly improved by disconnecting ourselves from technology and reconnecting with nature. For the purpose of this study, participants went backpacking through nature for approximately 4 days. During this time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever. They were asked to carry out assignments which required creative thinking and complicated problem solving, and researchers discovered that the participant’s performance on problem solving assignments improved by 50% for those who engaged in this technology-free hiking excursion.
The researchers of this study stated that both technology and city noise are exceedingly disruptive because they constantly demand our attention and prevent us from focusing, all of which can be burdensome for our cognitive behavior. A nice long hike, without any technology whatsoever, can minimize mental exhaustion, relieve the mind, and boost creative thinking.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is becoming more and more common among children. Those who have ADHD have a difficult time controlling their impulses and remaining focused, because they are easily distracted, and they display excessive hyperactivity.
Although raising children who have ADHD can be hard on parents, the common solution of choosing prescription medication may be doing more harm than good, especially when natural solutions can have the same effect. A study carried out by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, discovered that opening children with ADHD up to “green outdoor activities” can significantly reduce the symptoms of ADHD. The results of this study propose that an exposure to nature can benefit anyone who has a difficult time focusing and/or displays impulsive behavior.
It’s old news that exercising does wonders for our overall well-being. Hiking is a great way to burn between 400 – 700 calories per hour, depending on your size and the difficulty of the hike. Additionally, it is also easier on the joints than other activities like running. It has also been confirmed that people who exercise outside are more likely to keep at it and stick to their programs, which makes hiking a wonderful choice for those who wish to be more active on a regular basis.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia discovered that aerobic exercise can increase the hippocampal volume — the part of the brain connected to spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70. Exercise of this kind not only decreases memory loss, but also helps to prevent it as well. Researchers also discovered that it can also decrease stress and anxiety, increase self-esteem, and release endorphins. Many people take medication to resolve each and every one of these problems, but the solution to these illnesses may be a lot simpler than you think!
Fortunately, hiking is one of the easiest and least expensive sports to start doing, and it can greatly benefit the whole family, even grandma! Start out small and put your abilities to the test. Do what works for you — if that means simply walking the trails in a park, that’s fine. Basically, any outdoor exercise is better than none. You can easily find maps of trails close to your home online, and there are plenty of smartphone apps to help you find them, too. I recommend turning off your signal and your phone while hiking though, so you can benefit most from the hike (however, it may be wise to at least carry it with you in case of an emergency).
Be sure to have some good solid hiking shoes, a hat, and a water bottle, and make sure you layer your clothing so you can easily take things on or off as you warm up and cool down. You may want to think about using trekking poles as well, which can increase your speed and take some of the pressure off your knees. Now, there’s only one thing you should do for me:
Go take a hike!