Doctors Explain how Hiking can Cure Modern Mental Illnesses

“The peace of nature will seep into you as the sun’s rays penetrate the trees. The wind will blow you its freshness, and the storms their energy, and worries fall like autumn leaves,” wrote John Muir in Our National Parks. Obviously, John Muir understood the fundamental value of spending time in nature.

Like John Muir, many of us recognize that hiking in nature is good for the body, mind and soul. Walking in the woods while watching birds and colorful foliage, sniffing the spruce and pine aroma, and listening to the soothing murmur of a stream, all this clears our minds and we feel good. Fortunately, the doctors agree. Studies show that spending time hiking in nature provides multiple benefits for overall mental health.

Walking in nature reduces rumination

Those that chew the cud or focus on too many negative thoughts about themselves may be prone to anxiety, depression and other problems such as excessive eating or posttraumatic stress disorder. In a recent study, the researchers wanted to know if spending time in nature affects stress and found out that an excursion in nature reduces these obsessive negative thoughts.

In this study, researchers compared rumination reported by participants who have hiked in an urban environment or in nature. They found that those who walked for 90 minutes in nature, a grassland environment near Stanford University, reported less rumination and had also reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is associated with mental illness. Those who went in an urban environment had not experienced the same benefits.

These researchers explain that our world becomes increasingly urban, and urbanization is linked to depression and other mental illness. Obviously, moving away from an urban environment and spending time outdoors where there is less mental stress, less noise and less distraction can be beneficial to our mental health.

Hiking without Hi-Tech stimulates creative resolution of problems

A study by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer, creative reasoning can be improved by elimination of technology and reconnection with nature. In this study, participants were hiking in nature for about four days and they were not allowed to use any technology. They were asked to perform tasks requiring creativity and to solve complex problems. They found that participants have increased their performance in problem solving tasks by 50%.

Researchers say that the technology and noise of urban areas constantly monopolizes our attention and prevents us to focus, which affects our cognitive functions. That is why when we feel overwhelmed by the stresses of urban life and 24/7 connections with civilization, walks in nature can be a powerful medicine. They reduce our mental fatigue, soothe our mind and help us think creatively.

Hiking can improve ADHD in children

Children with ADHD usually have trouble staying focused, are easily distracted, have hyperactivity disorders and have difficulty controlling their impulses.

Sometimes it can be confusing raising children with this disorder. Nevertheless, beautiful news came from the medical and scientific world. In a study conducted by Frances E. Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor, researchers found that exposure of these children to “outdoor activities and nature” reduces their symptoms. Thus, according to this study, the benefits of exposure to nature can help anyone with symptoms of inattention and impulsivity.

The doctors concluded that simple changes involving activities in nature can improve attention. For example, even longer sit in front of a window facing onto a green landscape, an afternoon stroll in nature or just playing ball in the park can relieve the symptoms of ADHD.

The walk in nature is great exercise, which stimulates the intellect

We have all heard the saying a healthy mind in a healthy body. The walk in nature is a great form of exercise and can burn 400 to 700 calories in an hour, depending on the difficulty of walking. The added benefit is that hiking is not as stressful on our joints as some other forms of exercise such as running. Moreover, it turned out that those who exercise outdoors are more likely to stick to their exercise programs, making hiking an excellent choice for those who plan to incorporate exercise into their daily lives.

The mind and body are naturally connected. Exercise helps keep our brain cells nourished and healthy. In fact, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, the open-air exercise may even improve memory and cognitive abilities. In the study, they found that outdoor exercise increases hippocampal volume in older women. The hippocampus is a part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory.

Not only does exercise improve cognitive ability and can prevent its decline, as shown in the study, but it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem, and release endorphins. It is amazing that such a simple physical activity and cheap as hiking can have so many benefits for the mental health.

Hiking is now prescribed by doctors

Did your doctor ever told you to “take a hike”? This is not a phrase we want to hear, especially from our doctor, but they actually have our well-being in mind. Progressive physicians are now aware that people who spend time in nature suffer less stress and enjoy better physical health.

According to WebMD, more and more doctors recommend “the eco-therapy” to reduce anxiety, improve stress levels and to fight against depression. Moreover, requirements to spend some time in nature become more accepted by mainstream health providers as more and more research shows the benefits of exercise and time spent in nature.

The State of California is traditionally one of the most progressive states in the alternative health field. For example, the Institute at the Golden Gate led a fight to promote park prescriptions therapy through its initiative “Healthy Parks, Healthy People (HPHP).” In this program, membership organizations are working with health professionals to improve the health of their farms and to promote the use of parks as a way to regain health for people who come there.

How to start hiking?

Fortunately, hiking is one of the easiest and least expensive sports, and it’s fun and beneficial for the entire family. If you are just a beginner, do not plan to climb the Mont Blanc or the GR20 in Corsica. You can start with small steps. Discover local trails and small hiking trails and make sure you take a safe and comfortable distance. You can find hiking guides by region, or online, and there are smartphone applications to help you find the best trails for your level and interests.

Be sure to wear sturdy and appropriate hiking shoes. According to taste, you can consider walking sticks, which for some reduce stress on the knees, increases speed and improves stability. Allow as much clothing as necessary depending on the weather, and wear clothes from airy fabrics that allow your sweat to drain and allow you to stay warm. Use sunglasses and a hat to protect from the sun. Stay hydrated and have fun!

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