Hiking Can Make You Happier and Healthier
When was the last time you went hiking? According to Lonely Planet, hiking is now the top-rated outdoor adventure for travelers worldwide. It is easy to assume hiking enthusiasts are heading to the great outdoors in droves because it is pretty, the wild animals are cute and they need something to burn off their kids’ extra energy (and their extra calories). But the real truth is far deeper than these surface benefits. A recent research study published by the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) highlighted a link between hiking and cognitive function that may in time turn hiking into a medical prescription in its own right! In other words, that gorgeous nature hike you took last weekend or last year actually changed your brain. Read on to find out what researchers have learned about the connection between hiking and brain health.
Nature Hiking Can Decrease Rumination
The subgenual prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain most closely associated with many common types of mental illness, including anxiety and depression. The subgenual prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that has a tendency to worry, or ruminate, sometimes obsessively. After just 90 minutes of hiking in a natural setting, study participants self-reported decreased levels of rumination.
Nature Hiking Can Increase Creative Problem Solving
A research study published by PLOS One confirmed a negative association between technology and creative problem solving. The constant immersion in technology – the sounds, the sights, the sensory overload – can be incredibly taxing on certain cognitive processes and cause cognitive imbalance. The research study took a look at how creativity could be boosted by deliberate extended nature immersion. Researchers found that the parts of the prefrontal cortex responsible for generating creative problem-solving solutions was enhanced.
Hiking Can Decrease Incidence of ADHD in Young Hikers
A nationwide study published in the American Journal of Public Health showcased how hiking can potentially reduce distractibility, impulse control issues, hyperactivity and lack of focus in children diagnosed with ADHD. This study proposed hiking as a workable alternative to traditional medication for young patients.
Hiking Improves Access to Brain Function and Memory
The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that aerobic exercise makes a measurable improvement to overall volume of the hippocampus, which controls episodic and spatial memory. Research subjects that participated in twice weekly aerobic activity gained hippocampal volume and improved memory.
Hiking Is a Great Form of Physical Therapy
Numerous research studies highlight the benefits of hiking as a form of physical therapy. Benefits of hiking include these:
- Hiking is free!
- Hiking burns calories in a way that is less stressful on joints.
- Hiking releases natural feel-good endorphins that boost mood and lessen discomfort.
- Hiking lowers anxiety and stress.
- Hiking is good for self-esteem.
- Hiking can serve as an alternative to medication in some cases.
Overall, hiking is a great form of mental and physical therapy for people of all ages.