Not only is hiking a great workout and a fun way to spend time outdoors, researchers are now saying it can actually have so much of an impact that it causes changes to your brain! Hiking can be a way to relieve stress, calm the mind and exercise the body, and recent studies have also found that it may increase the ability to focus, have psychological benefits and increase creativity and problem-solving.
Hiking Benefits Psychological Well-being
A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was conducted to determine the impact that nature has on one’s mind. Researchers compared the thoughts of participants who walked through an urban environment for 90 minutes with those who walked through a natural environment. They found that those in the natural environment reported less negative thoughts and also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex – an area of the brain related to mental illness.
The researchers found that increased urbanization correlates with increased instances of depression and mental illness. Spending time outdoors surrounded by nature can greatly benefit one’s psychological and physical well-being.
Hiking Increases Creativity and Problem Solving
Another study, conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer, found that disconnecting from technology and connecting with nature instead can greatly improve creative problem solving skills and boost creative thinking.
Participants involved in the study backpacked through nature for several days, during which time they were not permitted to use any form of technology. They were asked to perform tasks that required creative thinking and complex problem solving. Researchers found that the performance on tasks that required problem solving improved by 50% for the participants who spent several days in a natural environment.
The study concluded that both technology and the noises of an urban environment are greatly disruptive. They can lower one’s ability to focus and have a negative impact on cognitive function. Unplugging and spending time in nature can reduce stress, soothe the mind and boost creativity and complex thinking skills.
Hiking May Lessen the Effects of ADHD in Children
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have a difficult time staying focused. They often get distracted and have trouble with impulse control. One study found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” can significantly reduce their symptoms, suggesting that spending time in a natural environment may prove beneficial for anyone who has a difficult time concentrating, or anyone who struggles with impulse control.
Hiking is an easy and inexpensive hobby. It’s a great way to get exercise and burn calories, stay healthy, clear your mind and spend time with nature. Whether you’re walking through a park with small hills or trekking up a mountain, getting exercise outdoors in the fresh air has its proven benefits. Wear comfy and reliable shoes and bring a water bottle along. Layering your clothing will allow you to adjust based on the temperature. If you’re hiking alone, be sure to let someone know where you’re going, and don’t forget your sunscreen!