The seasons are changing, the temperature is dropping, and soon we’ll see some beautiful foliage. It’s the perfect time to take advantage of the great outdoors. And what better way to do this than by hiking? A “hike” can happen anywhere: up steep mountains, through dense woods, or even in well-paved nature reservations. It doesn’t matter where you do it, the point is to put down your work, walk away from your to-do list, and reset in nature. But there are more benefits to hiking than just relaxation!
Benefits For The Mind And Body
Hiking has many benefits for both your physical and mental well-being, and there are studies from all over the world to prove it. Researchers have studied the effects of regular exposure to nature, and have found the following effects:
- Stress reduction. Even just the act of spending time in nature can be hugely beneficial, thanks to chemicals released by trees and plants. Biologists, naturalists, and psychologists have worked together to study the effect of phytoncides, a chemical released by plants, on cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress in humans. They have found that exposure to phytoncides can greatly reduce cortisone levels. This isn’t only true while you are in the presence of plants; this chemical can have a lasting effect on your reaction to stress in the future.
- Emotional stability. Even spending a small amount of time out of the city and in nature can reduce the risk of developing depression, as well as provide you with a way to keep you from dwelling on negative thoughts.
- Increased immune function. Many studies have shown that there is a correlation between the amount of time you spend in nature and your immune system function.
- Improved health. In a recent study, participants were assigned to walk in nature or in an urban environment 3 times a week. Researchers logged participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability, and the group who walked in nature had much lower heart rates and blood pressure each day that they took their walks.
- Improved focus. Many of us feel overwhelmed by the amount of work we have, resulting in irritability and distractibility. Studies show that taking a break in nature can serve as a cognitive reset, which can improve your test scores, your ability to focus, and your short term memory.
- Strengthened neural pathways. Getting lost might actually have some benefits! Introducing new skills, like map reading or using a compass, can exercise the plasticity of your brain, forming and strengthening neural pathways.
- Improved memory. Hiking regularly can have a positive impact on your hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory storage and function. Experts believe hiking or walking regularly can have a long-term impact on aging brains, potentially decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Nature Makes You Feel Good!
As if those major brain and body benefits weren’t enough, there’s another reason to get outdoors. When we exercise, our brains produce feel-good endorphins like oxytocin – hence the “runner’s high” that cardio enthusiasts often talk about! Hiking causes a similar endorphin release, which decreases stress and pain and promotes a feeling of euphoria. These neurochemicals are often referred to as the brain’s love potions, so bring a love interest along with you and get those endorphins flowing.
Spending time in nature with loved ones can be incredibly beneficial. Not only are you decompressing, relaxing, and taking care of yourselves together, you’re also both in great moods! You can laugh together, walk in silence, motivate one another when it feels too tough to go on, and go home at the end of the day feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
Tips For A Safe Hike
Hiking isn’t all lovey-dovey sunshine and endorphins. Hiking can be strenuous and your best bet is to be prepared! Follow these 5 tips for a safe and enjoyable hike.
- Be prepared. Hiking can be a short trip or an all-day affair, but either way it’s important to have the basics on hand! High protein snacks, more water than you think you’ll need, an extra pair of socks for wet feet, and a basic first aid kit are all essentials you should store in your backpack.
- Be respectful. This should go without saying, but be respectful of other nature enthusiasts. Don’t smoke, pass on the left, and share the path. You must also be respectful of the environment by staying on marked trails and taking any trash home with you.
- Pay attention to the weather. Remember that fall weather is changeable – a very cool morning can quickly turn into a blistering hot day, so it is important to come prepared with layers.
- Pay attention to your needs. Don’t over do it! It’s important to recognize your own limitations. Go slow and steady, take breaks when you need to, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are so many benefits to spending time outdoors! Anyone can reap these benefits – regardless of where you are in the world, what your experience level is, or how fit you feel. Start by taking walks on your breaks from work, or a weekend adventure just outside of your city limits. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you feel the difference!