We all know hiking is good for your health. But do you know just how good it is?
Recent findings reveal that the health benefits of hiking extend far beyond what we previously knew – and can even lead to changes in your brain.
Health Benefits of Hiking
Fitness is the most obvious benefit that results from hiking as it exercises almost every part of your body: legs, knees, ankles, arms, hips and butt, abdominals, shoulders and neck.
Combats Negative & Obsessive Thoughts
Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.
To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.
The researchers noted that increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.
Boosts Creative Problem Solving
Psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that hiking drastically improves creative problem solving by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.
The study followed a group of hikers on a technology free backpacking trip through nature for 4 days. Researchers tasked the participants to perform tasks which required creative thinking and complex problem solving and found that performance on problem solving tasks improved by 50% for those who took part in the tech-free hiking excursion.
The researchers noted that both technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions. A nice long hike, sans technology, can reduce mental fatigue, soothe the mind, and boost creative thinking.
Reduces Symptoms of ADHD in Children
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is becoming more and more common among children. Children who have ADHD have a difficult time with impulse control and staying focused, they get distracted easily, and exhibit excessive hyperactivity.
While raising children who have ADHD can be difficult for parents, the usual solution — opting for prescription medication — may be doing more harm than good, particularly when natural solutions can work just as well. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduces symptoms significantly. The results of this study suggest nature exposure can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention and/or exhibits impulsive behavior.
Hiking is inexpensive and comes with a plethora of health benefits. Get started today! Research trails in and around your community, grab the family, and take a hike!!
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