Hiking literally changes our brain


In addition to the almost instant sense of calm and contentment that accompanies being outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by burdensome thoughts that deprive us of enjoying the moment and can lead to depression and anxiety.

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature significantly reduces intrusive negative thoughts.

For this study, scientists compared the number of intrusive thoughts in participants who hiked in an urban or natural environment. They found that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination, and there was evidence of reduced neural activity in the subcutaneous prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with mental illness.

However, those who walked in urban environments did not report decreased levels of rumination (the irresistible habit of overthinking everything is called rumination, or mental gumption. The repetitive experience of endlessly replaying the same situation in one’s head resembles the process of cows chewing grass).

Researchers noted that increased urbanization is closely correlated with increased rates of depression and other mental illnesses. Getting away from urban environments and spending more time in nature on a regular basis can significantly improve our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Hiking away from technology promotes creative problem solving

A study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative problem solving can be greatly improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.

Participants in the study went on a nature hike for four days during which they were not allowed to use any technology. They were asked to complete tasks that required creative thinking and complex problem solving, and the researchers found that problem-solving performance improved by 50 percent for those who participated in this hike without gadgets.

They also noted that technology and city noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and interfering with our concentration, all of which can negatively impact our cognitive functions. A good long walk without the use of technological devices can reduce mental fatigue, calm the mind and activate creative thinking.

Walking outdoors can improve ADHD in children

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is becoming increasingly common in children. Children with ADHD have difficulty controlling impulses and concentrating, are easily distracted, and exhibit excessive hyperactivity.

Parenting children with ADHD can be difficult for parents, but the usual solution — choosing prescription drugs — can do more harm than good, especially when natural solutions can work just as well.

A study conducted by Frances Koop, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that engaging children with ADHD in “nature activities” significantly reduces symptoms. The results of this study suggest that being in nature can benefit anyone with attention difficulties and/or impulsive behaviors.

Hiking in nature is excellent exercise and therefore increases brain power

We already know that exercise is very beneficial to our overall well-being. Hiking is a great way to burn 400-700 calories per hour, depending on your height and the difficulty of the hike, and it’s easier on your joints than other activities like running. It has also been proven that people who exercise outdoors are more likely to stay engaged and stick to their programs, making hiking a great choice for those who want to become more active on a regular basis.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases the volume of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory, in women over age 70. Such exercise not only reduces memory loss, but also helps prevent it.

Researchers also found that they can reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem and release endorphins. Many people take medication to solve each of these problems, but solving these problems may be much easier than you think!
Go take a hike!

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