How Hiking Can Improve Your
Posted at 10:00 - 10th October - Sarah Booth
Many people have experienced the connection between hiking and happiness. However, it now seems that the benefits to your mental health can be scientifically proven. Today is World Mental Health Day, and to celebrate, we wanted to highlight the ways that hiking can help improve your mental well being.
Our subconscious brain processes around 11 million ‘bits’ of information every second, with our conscious brain processing around 50. Add pinging emails, bleeping notifications, social media scrolling and it’s no wonder that we are struggling with overwhelm and mental fatigue.
Hiking provides the perfect opportunity to unplug from technology and plug into nature. Worries fall away as you start to focus on what surrounds you – the footpath beneath your feet, the sounds of nature, glimpses of wildlife, and breath taking views around every corner. Being surrounded by nature can help increase your creativity and problem solving skills by up to 50% because it helps to restore the pre-frontal cortex area of the brain – the area that is heavily used to deal with the multi tasking demands of every day life.
“Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television) that hijack attention. By contrast, natural environments are associated with a gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.”
“Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.”
Hiking has also been proven to reduce anxiety because you are less likely to overthink negative emotions and experiences when you are outdoors.
Hiking in nature has a meditative quality, helping you feel inspired, empowered and connected to something greater than yourself. It allows you to escape, putting physical and emotional distance between you and your stresses until all you need to focus on is what you are there to accomplish.
Whatever you accomplish – whether it’s your first hike or a long distance challenge – you feel a huge sense of pride in discovering what you are truly capable of when you get out there and give things a go.
Hiking is a sport that is growing in popularity, changing from a pastime associated with retired ramblers, to one that is enjoyed by many young people who are taking advantage of the benefits it provides to their physical and mental health.
Alongside this growth in popularity comes the opportunity to develop your social connections and friendships beyond the confines of social media. Hiking with others gives you the opportunity to meet like-minded people, make new friends, engage in real life conversations and find the support of a positive, proactive community who want to see you succeed. When all of this happens in a lush, inspiring environment, the impact to your mental health can be significant.
Finally, recent studies have shown that hiking can help to reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children as it significantly improves their attention span and ability to control their impulses.
“Two studies to date have examined the impacts of exposure to nature among individuals with ADHD. Both focused on children aged 7 to 12 years who had been professionally diagnosed with ADHD. In the first study 3196 parents rated a variety of leisure activities with respect to whether their child’s symptoms were better than, worse than, or the same as usual after engaging in those activities. Parents also rated the general severity of their child’s symptoms and provided information on the “greenness” of the child’s typical play settings. Results indicated that symptoms were better than usual after activities in relatively green settings. Moreover, the after effects of activities taking place in green outdoor settings were better than those of activities taking place either indoors or in relatively built outdoor settings, and the greener a child’s typical play settings, the less severe his or her general symptoms.”
It is exciting to see scientific research emerging in a field where historically the link between nature and well-being has been felt but not necessarily quantified.
World Mental Health Day is all about education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma, so why not use it as a starting point to get outside and discover how a hike in nature can improve your own mental health and well-being.
For information, advice and immediate support for any mental health issues you can contact www.mind.org.uk