Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains
If you’ve gone on a hike, the kind where you lace up your boots and are gone for the day, you know just how good and life giving that time outdoors can be; the fresh air, the peace of mind, how strenuous and strengthening it can be for the body. And finally it seems science is now also in agreement!
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that when we spend time in nature, we decrease obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.
Researchers compared the reported obsessive, negative, and anxious thoughts of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment; those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and also had reduced neural activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain that’s related to mental illness) but participants who walked through the urban environment did not report decreased rumination.
What the researchers noted was that increased urbanization seemed to increase instances of depression and other mental illness. But taking time out to escape from urban settings, and spend more time in nature, greatly benefited our physical and psychological well-being.
And this wasn’t the only studies like this. Numerous ones have been done and have found:
- Conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer- creative problem solving is drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. “Participants in this study went backpacking through nature for about 4 days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever. They were asked to perform tasks which required creative thinking and complex problem solving, and researchers found that performance on problem solving tasks improved by 50% for those who took part in this tech-free hiking excursion,” reports the Collective Evolution article.
- Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that when exposed to outdoor activities, children with ADHD found their symptoms reduced. It seems nature can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention or has impulsive behavior.
- Researchers from the University of British Columbia did a study and found that aerobic exercise increased hippocampal volume (the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory) in women over the age of 70. More from the Collective Evolution article, “Such exercise not only improves memory loss, but helps prevent it as well. Researchers also found that it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self esteem, and release endorphins.”
It seems that technology and urban noise demand much from us and offer little in return in terms of stress management. The constant noise from technology and the urban world add to mental fatigue and make it difficult to pay attention. But, simply stepping into nature and going for a walk can reduce those negative effects, soothe our minds, and boost our creative juices- plus we are getting healthy in the process!
So, if you needed that extra push to get outdoors, you now know its good for your body, well being, AND brain. Grab a pair of sturdy hiking shoes and some water (don’t forget a hat if you burn easily) and go for a hike!
Please share with family and loved ones.
Health and Wellness Associates