When you think of hiking, your mind probably goes to the physical benefit or the views at the end of the hike. But, did you know that it improves both your mental health too?
Being outside in nature has an unseen benefit that enhances the hikers mental state in more ways than one. By understanding the mental benefits of hiking, you will not only be a happier person with lower stress, but have a higher self-esteem.
Nature and the Brain - The Unseen Benefit
Research shows that it is very beneficial to take a hike when you are feeling sad or depressed. By putting yourself into nature, smelling the fresh air, and feeling the sun on your skin you actually improve the state of your mind. As a result, researchers have found that you can control your depression and anxiety to a strong extent.
According to Deborah Netburn, reporter for the LA Times, if you take a walk in a natural environment for about fifty minutes you can improve your mood, reduce your anxiety and improve your memory. With this being around the same amount of time that you put into working out at a gym, this could be a great substitute that not only helps your physical state, but also mental.
So, how exactly does nature help? It is believed that hiking around trees and plants, especially the decaying ones, can reduce the levels of anxiety. Plants emit chemicals that slow down their decaying process. These chemicals have proven to slow down individuals too, leading to less anxiety.
Rumination and the Brain - the Unseen Threat
When one has repetitive thoughts that focus on the negative aspects of their life, the experience was is commonly referred to as ruminative process. Rumination is believed to be the predictor of depressive episodes among individuals. For example, rumination is when you spend a lot of time thinking of embarrassing or disappointing moments.
There are certain solutions that have been provided to fight this ruminative process, one of them being hiking. When you take that hike through a natural set environment (e.g. a forest trail, mountain trail, etc.), there will a reduction in both your rumination and the profusion of blood prefrontal cortex. Ultimately, this enhances your positive thoughts, combatting your depression and anxiety.
Researches and the Brain - the Case Study
There have been a number of tests conducted on hiking in nature and its impact on your brain. One group of researchers conducted a test on two groups of people. The participants had to take a 90-minutes walk. The difference between the two groups was that one group were to walk on a natural set out path whereas the other had to walk on an urban walk.
Afterwards, the researchers had the participants fill out a rumination questionnaire, and conducted brain scans. The scan allowed the researchers measure the flow of the blood in the prefrontal cortex of the participants.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is associated with mental illness. Researchers gathered that, individuals that went on a walk through a natural environment had lower rumination and neural activity compared to those that walked through urban environments.
As a result, the researchers realized that taking a hike through nature, rather than an urban area, will provide the added mental benefit that will benefit people. Nature assists you in fighting the negative thoughts and not pondering on the lows of life.
The less you think of the negative things in your life, the lower your rumination, ultimately resulting in less depression and anxiety.
Other studies show that when a person hikes, they have less anxiety, lower levels of their stress hormone, and improved memory function. See it here.
These added benefits would not stop at just the person that took the hike. That person, being happier, would then impact the people around them, creating a domino effect of happiness.
Hiking has the physical benefits that everyone enjoys, but it also has much more than that. Researches have done multiple tests on the impact of hiking in nature versus urban areas. Their findings are encouraging for those who are looking for more happiness and less depression.
By getting the focus off of your failures, pressures, and issues, you allow yourself to reduce your ruminative process. This reduction will provide you with a high self-esteem, better memory, and lower anxiety and stress.
So, take your next hike in nature rather than in your neighborhood. The added mental and physical benefits that you can have are amazing and worth improving your state of life. There is a reason people who are always in nature are happy and now you can join in on the joy that nature brings.