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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains

hiking, hike, mountain

If you have tried hiking for at least once before, you know that it cleanses the body, mind, and soul, but recently, researchers have found that it can actually change our brain!

Physical inactivity has been associated with numerous health issues, but studies have shown that by starting any type of physical exercise, one can prevent chronic disease, premature death, and improve health as well as the quality of life.

Hiking is apparently one of the best ways to boost overall health and lower the risk of developing health concerns. Namely, by spending some time hiking in the woods with your family and friends, you can:
  • Lower stress levels, improved mood, and enhanced mental wellbeing
  • Lower the risk for heart disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Decrease cholesterol levels
  • Improved control over healthy weight
  • Lower body fat
  • Boost bone density
  • Improve osteoarthritis outcomes
  • Increase your flexibility and coordination
  • Improve the quality of life
  • Enhance your relationships with friends and family

Being a powerful cardio exercise, hiking will also:
  • Improve balance
  • Build strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the muscles in the hips and lower legs
  • Strengthen your core
  • Help you control your body weight

hiking, mountain

The time spent outdoors instantly improves our mood and calms us, but hiking in nature can reduce rumination, neutralizes the negative energy, and prevents anxiety.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study which found that spending time in nature drastically reduces these obsessive, negative thoughts.

Namely, 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 reported reduced levels of rumination and has reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the brain area related to mental illness.

On the other hand, participants who walked through the urban environment did not report reduced rumination. Additionally, they noticed that increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness.

Also, psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer conducted another study which showed that creative problem solving can be significantly improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.

They agreed that both technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive to our cognitive thinking since they are constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing.

Therefore, the time spent hiking in nature, away from technology, will improve creative thinking, soothe the mind, and treat mental fatigue.

Hiking also improves ADHD in children, and their symptoms including difficulties with impulse control and staying focused, distractions, and excessive hyperactivity. The study conducted by Frances E Kup, Ph.D., and Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., confirmed that exposing them to “green outdoor activities” drastically reduces symptoms.

Hiking is a great exercise that burns between 400 – 700 calories per hour and is easier on the joints than other activities like running.

Moreover, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume — the brain part associated with spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70, improves memory loss, lowers stress and anxiety, boosts self-esteem, and releases endorphins.

What’s more, it is easy to start hiking and reap all its benefits. Just start out small and test your abilities, see what works for you. You will need good hiking shoes, a hat, light clothing, and a water bottle.

You can also buy trekking poles, that will boost your speed and take some pressure off your knees. You can find maps of trails online, download some smartphone app to help you as well, and then just turn off the signal of your phone, and enjoy the tour!

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