At its core, hiking is a physical activity. There are many benefits for our physical health when we hike, but what about the benefits of hiking for mental health?
Hiking also has many benefits for our mental health. In fact, some Dr’s are even recommending those that live with mental illnesses such as depression to ‘Take a Hike’ (one of the only times that phrase sounds good).
Scientific benefits of hiking for mental health
There have been many scientific studies done on the benefits of hiking for mental health as our lives become increasingly more stressful and mental health illnesses on the rise.
Rumination and the brain
One of these studies looks as rumination. Rumination is the repetitive negative thoughts that we have constantly. This is believed to be a big precursor to depressive episodes.
When you take a hike through a natural environment, for example, a forest trail, mountain trail, there will a reduction in both your rumination and the profusion of blood prefrontal cortex. Ultimately, this enhances your positive thoughts, which in turn can help combat your depression and anxiety.
There have been a number of tests conducted on hiking in nature and its impact on your brain. One group of researchers conducted a test on two groups of people. The participants had to take a 90-minutes walk. One group had to take a walk through an urban environment, while the other in a natural setting.
Researchers gathered that individuals that went on a walk through a natural environment had lower rumination and neural activity compared to those that walked through urban environments.
As a result, the researchers realised that taking a hike through nature, rather than an urban area, will provide the added mental benefit that will assist people with mental illnesses. Nature assists you in fighting the negative thoughts and not pondering on the lows of life.
Other benefits of hiking for mental health include:
- Greater connection with nature
- Helps improve your outlook on life
- Allowing better sleep
- Clears your mind
- Sends lots of helpful endorphins to your brain
- The ability to overcome new challenges
- Experience new things
- It gives you a chance to unplug
- Helps reconnect with yourself
- Improves physical health – healthy body, healthy mind
Greater connection to nature
Hiking provides the ultimate connection to nature. It is just you (if you hike solo), your boots pounding the rugged ground, the trees and the wildlife. What could be a better setting? When we hike we are more likely to be in the moment, mindful of our surroundings and in a calm environment.
I always feel closer to nature and to Mother Earth when I hike. It is my solitude, happy place and where my soul reconnects.
Helps improve your outlook on life
How can you be grumpy surrounded by Mother Nature’s glory? You can’t is the answer.
There is no better feeling than finally reaching the top of the peak, sitting down and being in awe of your surroundings, covered in sweat and mud. When you look back and how far you have come and the stunning view in front of you, you can’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Allowing better sleep
The physical demands of hiking will let your body rest more thoroughly and stay asleep throughout the night. It also naturally cuts back on stress levels, which can help quiet your mind when it’s time for rest.
That achy body practically sinks into the mattress and your brain disappears into the fog of sleep. Bliss!
Clears your mind
We have busy wee lives that are constantly on the go. From work to family obligations to constantly being available, hiking gives the opportunity just to get lost in thought as you wander through nature.
Thoughts of work fly out of your mind as you try and spot the bird you can hear or navigate the track. Which is just how it is supposed to be.
Sends lots of helpful endorphins to your brain
Endorphins are those chemicals that get released when you exercise. These chemicals are ‘happy chemicals’ that make you feel pumped, energised and happy. Hiking is exercise so it is releasing natural feel-good chemicals in a natural environment. What could be better?
The ability to overcome new challenges
Hiking is a challenging hobby, often our body is pushed to the maximum and it is our mind that gets us to the other side. The ability to overcome new challenges will not only help us when we hike but in everyday life as well. My first challenging solo trek was Atene Skyline track. I nearly got lost several times, fell over more than once and ruined my knees for the next few hikes. But! I did it and was immensely proud of myself.
Experience new things
A love for hiking can lead you to breathtaking heights all over the world, but it can also show you new sights and geological wonders right in your backyard. When hiking, you’re often forced to disconnect from technology and give nature your full attention. This opens the door to see some incredible flora and fauna during every adventure, like finding cave weta at Coppermine Creek and Platinum Mines
It gives you a chance to unplug
We are available 24/7 with the increased use of smartphones. How many times have you checked your emails or Facebook before going to sleep and then on waking up?
Hiking allows us to unplug, actually, a lot of the time it forces us to unplug with service being little to none in the backcountry.
Wandering through the bush listening to the birds, the rustle of the trees and the crunchy leaves or squelching mud underfoot is the best medicine.
Even if you do get service when you hike, I would highly suggest leaving your phone in your backpack unless you want to take a photo.
Helps reconnect with yourself
I highly recommend everyone hikes solo at least once in their lives. It is the ultimate chance to reconnect with yourself in a way you can’t when you are just at home by yourself.
The mind tends to idle while hiking, you will discover boundaries, your strengths and how to rely on yourself.
I like to take a notebook when I hike. I find the pen flies across the page when I am sitting amongst the trees, often thoughts I never knew I had.
Improves physical health – healthy body, healthy mind
Hiking is a fantastic form of exercise. The varied terrain can often serve as cardio, strength and endurance training, all in one trip. Having a healthier body is an important part of keeping a healthy mind and vice versa. Adventuring into the woods is a wonderful way to work on both aspects of our health.
Final Thoughts on the benefits of hiking for mental health
So, as you can see the benefits of hiking for mental health are plenty. Hiking as an activity, which can be scaled depending on ability (so no excuses please), that can transform our mental health for the better. Though hiking may not solve all our problems as nice as that would be, it’s a great avenue for dealing with challenges such as anxiety and depression.
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