Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains

If you like hiking, you are well aware of its numerous benefits on your soul, body, and mind, but a recent study has found that it actually improves the function of the brain!

Despite the tranquilizing effects of spending time outdoors, hiking reduces rumination. We are living in a time when stress happens daily, and we are consumed by negative thoughts too often, which reduces the time we spend enjoying life.

However, a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that spending time in nature significantly reduces negative thoughts.

Researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment and discovered that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment had decreased levels of rumination and lower neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is a brain area associated to mental illness.

On the other hand, people who walked through the urban environment did not report reduced rumination.

According to the researchers, increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Therefore, the time spent away from urban settings and spending it in nature significantly improves our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Furthermore, psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer conducted a study which showed that disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature enhances creative problem-solving.

People involved in their study went backpacking through nature for about 4 days, and they were not allowed to use any technology devices.

Researchers gave then tasks which required creative thinking and complex problem solving, and participants who took part in the hiking tour performed better on problem-solving tasks by 50%.

Hence, they concluded that technology and urban noise demand out attention and lead to troubles focusing, which diminishes cognitive functions. On the other hand,  hiking relaxes the mind, improves creative thinking, and reduces mental fatigue.

Hiking offers other benefits as well. The findings of a study conducted by Frances E Kup, Ph.D., and Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., indicated that the exposure of children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” drastically reduced their symptoms.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder among children and is manifested by troubles focusing, difficulties with impulse control, distractions, and excessive hyperactivity.

Researchers have found that nature exposure is as beneficial in children with attention issues and/or exhibits impulsive behavior.

Additionally, despite being excellent for our general health, hiking burns 400 – 700 calories per hour, and it is easier on the joints than running and activities like it.

The team of researchers from the University of British Columbia proved that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume, which is the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory, in women older than 70.

This means that such exercise prevents and improves memory loss anxiety and stress, releases, endorphins, and fortifies self-esteem.

Start hiking

The entire family can get involved in hiking as it is easy and inexpensive.

Yet, make sure you start out small, from walking trails in the park. Purchase good sturdy hiking shoes, a hat. Take a water bottle, and layer your clothes in order to be easy to take them off as you warm up. To boost your speed and reduce the pressure off the knees, get trekking poles.

Now, just take a hike and enjoy its numerous benefits! It will become a life-changing hobby!



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