Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: walking or hiking in the wild can breathe new life into human beings. However, you still may be surprised at some of the specific benefits which doctors have highlighted below.
Hiking halts negative thinking.
In addition to the calming effects of hiking, positive thinking is another vital benefit: research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that spending time with nature substantially decreases the number and frequency of negative thoughts which individuals experience in general. In fact, people who walked for approximately ninety minutes also experienced reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain related to mental illness. In contrast, individuals who walked through an urban environment experienced no change in this type of neural activity—so natural environments really are key.
Hiking without technology enhances creativity and problem-solving skills.
According to a study by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer, connecting with nature as opposed to technology greatly enhances our minds. In this case, participants backpacked for approximately four days without utilizing any technological devices, and they showed a 50% increase in problem-solving abilities as a result. Furthermore, it was found that urban noise, in general, stifles human creativity and prevents us from genuinely focusing. However, connecting with nature regularly can prevent any long-term effects.
Hiking reduces ADHD in children.
What’s more, hiking doesn’t come with any of the negative side-effects which prescription drugs often do. Research by Frances E Kup, Ph.D., and Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., finds that symptoms of ADHD are greatly reduced when children engage in “green outdoor activities” on a regular basis. In fact, even children, teens, tweens, and adults who do not suffer from ADHD can enhance their ability to focus on connecting with nature regularly.
Hiking increases brain power in general.
It’s common to burn approximately 400–700 calories per hour while hiking, and it is actually easier on your joints in comparison to running or jogging—so the fact that hiking also makes you smarter should really clinch its worth. What more, individuals who exercise outdoors have more of a tendency to continue working out in comparison to individuals who work out indoors? Furthermore, University of British Columbia research finds that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume, which is the section of the brain related to spatial and episodic memory. So, this type of exercise can actually prevent memory loss from occurring, in addition to being able to reduce memory loss. Finally, it was also discovered that this exercise reduces stress and anxiety while enhancing self-esteem and the release of endorphins.
The good news is that hiking is very inexpensive to do, and the endeavor can be undertaken by virtually anyone of any age. That being said, it’s best to start small by simply walking through or around a nearby park, and then slowly work your way up to more challenging treks from there. Once you are ready for something more (or if you’re still not sure where to start), check out one of many smartphone apps in order to locate and utilize all of the opportunities which are nearby. However, remember to turn off your phone while walking or hiking in order to maximize the overall benefits!
If you have the means, invest in some good hiking shoes or boots, a hat that will keep-out enough of the sun, and a water bottle which will keep you hydrated for the duration of your journey. It’s also advisable to wear a backpack and dress in layers so you can peel-off (or add-on) clothing as is necessary to remain comfortable. Eventually, you may want to invest in hiking poles to reduce even more pressure on your knees, but if you’ve read the article this far, you’re probably already ready to get started!