We all know hiking is great for your physical body and can build strength, help to maintain a healthy weight, improve balance and coordination, strengthen cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure and help control diabetes but what can it do for our minds? Check out these 5 benefits hiking has on your mind.
1. Hiking helps relieve anxiety.
“Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety," says Gregory A. Miller, PhD, president of the American Hiking Society. "Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that."
Taking a hike in nature means getting away from your everyday stress, slowing down, re-connecting with yourself, and becoming present in your surroundings. The sounds of nature, birds, flowing water, wind in the trees have a calming effect on your brain and help to stop any anxiety you may have.
2. Hiking lowers levels of rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self).
A Stanford led study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found “through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world”.
Negative thoughts can cause self esteem issues, low confidence, fatigue, less clarity of mind, and now are being associated with illness and disease. These thoughts can be improved with just a 90 minute hike in nature!
3. Hiking makes you feel happy.
Dopamine and Serotonin are two neurochemicals that make you feel happy. Dopamine is responsible for improving mood and stimulating pleasurable feelings. Serotonin helps to decrease depression and anger and is known as the happy chemical. According to research conducted at the University of Texas at Austin, they found that just a single 40-minute period of exercise can have an immediate effect on mood. It is believed that this effect on mood is due to what is known sometimes as a “runners high” which comes from an increase in dopamine after a run (or a hike).
4. Hiking keeps you in the present moment.
"The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present"- Eckhart Tolle
Although you might day dream a bit while hiking, for the most part you are in the present moment for most of your hike. It’s hard to hike on a trail without being conscious of where your feet are, if you’re thirsty, paying attention to not getting lost, etc. You are forced to stay in the present moment to be able to hike without getting hurt or lost.
So what is so good about being in the present moment? The ability to be mindful can create improved focus & concentration, help to make clearer decisions, improve memory, improve mood, and promote peaceful thoughts. It also allows your mind to re-connect to your body and become aware of emotions, feelings, and anything you may not have been aware of while distracted.
5. Hiking boosts creativity and problem solving.
Research showed that a four day immersion in nature while disconnected from technology and/or multi media increased performance on creativity and problem-solving tasks a full 50% for the hikers involved in the experiment. The study found that technology and urban environments are greatly distracting, thus taking away from the ability to focus and have a negative impact on cognitive skills. Unplugging and stepping into nature for a hike will boost creativity and cognitive skills.
Whether you're a Zen Master or not, the benefits of hiking go on and on including these five benefits to your mind while hiking.