Everyone knows that hiking is both fun and good for promoting physical health, but what a lot of people don’t know is that it is also good for mental health. For example, hiking decreases the practice of “rumination”, which is described as the process of constantly mulling over personal failures, shortcomings, and the other ways in which life just simply seems to be going wrong. These types of thoughts are usually hard for people to shake, and they tend to dwell on them for lengthy periods of time. Most people are familiar with this problem, but may not know that hiking can decrease the negative emotions associated with it. A study performed on 38 participants showed that those who went on a walk through nature exhibited lower levels of rumination than those who spent the same amount of time walking through city streets.
Additionally, nature has been found to have a positive and relaxing effect on mood. This is likely why people who live in urban settings tend to have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues than those who live in more rural environments that are closer to nature. People who spend more time hiking and in nature have lower levels of negative emotions and anxiety than those who spend more time in the city.
Aside from increasing positive emotions, hiking also encourages more efficient brain functioning. One study has shown that people who spent time hiking in nature showed better working memory performance than those who spent time walking through the city. As another study showed, hikers also showed an increased ability for creative problem solving. Those who disconnected from technology and spent four days backpacking increased their performance on problem-solving tasks by 50%.
It has also been shown that children can gain a lot from accompanying their parents on hikes. Studies have shown that hiking and other activities that involve being in green, outdoor spaces can decrease the symptoms of ADHD in young people. For example, impulsivity and inattention can be noticeably lowered just by going on a hike. For parents who are having trouble getting their children to focus, simply spending more time outside could be the answer.
Those who suffer from depression also stand to benefit greatly from going on a hike. This is due to the fact that exercise, in general, releases endorphins. Endorphins interact with the receptors of the brain to reduce the perception of pain, and they also trigger positive feelings in the body. This is why many people describe a feeling of euphoria after they do any type of exercise. Endorphins also reduce stress and promote feelings of self-esteem. Experiencing all of these positive effects are just one hike away.
For all these reasons, (and many others) many doctors are recommending hiking and spending more time in nature to their patients. People benefit from this because it gives them a way to improve their feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and any number of other negative symptoms in a more natural way. They do not need to rely on medications or therapy to feel happier, they just need to take a hike! Most people are not aware that hiking does not have to be just for enjoying beautiful views and increasing physical fitness. Just about anyone can reap the mental health benefits. All they need are some hiking boots, hiking backpacks, and a water bottle to start seeing and feeling the benefits of spending more time in nature.
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