Doctors Reveal How Hiking Actually Transforms Our Brains

For many people, everyday life has a tendency to cause our minds to run a million miles an hour in a million different directions.

Studies have shown that this is especially true for individuals who live a primarily urbanized life.

For many people this constant stimulation of the mind results in an inability to quiet their thoughts and focus on the task at hand, or simply to relax.

Minds are consumed with every negative aspect of any situation and continuously think of every negative outcome possible to things in their lives.

This rumination causes individuals to stay in a mentality of expecting the worst case scenario in every aspect of life, often leading to stress and depression.

To combat this, studies indicate the best thing to do is to get back to nature.

Helps Combat Negative & Obsessive Thoughts

Relax, we aren’t suggesting going to an extreme and fleeing your urban world to live off grid with no running water and hunt for your food every day, we are suggesting you simply take a hike.

There is a certain stillness that escaping the urban world and going on just a 90-minute retreat into nature provides.

The air is cleaner without the smog filled air of the city, the sky is more blue, the birds sing a little sweeter and it is easier to become more in tune with your body and mind.

A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that spending time in nature quiets this negative mentality significantly.

A study conducted by comparing participants who reported a high level of rumination who hiked through urban areas to those who hiked through natural settings showed that those hiking in urban areas reported no significant change in rumination whereas those who hiked through natural environments reported a noticeable decrease.

Further examination revealed a reduced level of neural activity in the subgenual cortex of the brain which is the portion of the brain related to mental illness.

This decrease in rumination supports researcher’s findings that tendencies toward depression and mental illness is closely correlated to highly urbanized lifestyles compared to the lower tendency of people living their lives in a more natural setting.

Grow Closer to God Through His Creation

According to BibleStudyTools.com, nature is one of God’s beautiful creations.

Through nature, God is able to teach us, speak to us, and provide for us.

For this reason, we can find in scripture that we humans are called to protect all which is of He has created.

Here are some Bible verses for a better understanding.

  • John 1:3 “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
  • Job 12:7-10 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
  • Psalm 96:11-12 “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

Doctors Now Prescribe Hiking as “Ecotherapy”

While numerous medications are available to reduce stress and treat anxiety and depression, or to manage ADHD, those methods only temporarily help and can bring with them negative side effects and chemical dependency.

In fact, WebMD says that many doctors are now telling patients to “take a hike” by writing them a “nature prescription” to improve their anxiety, reduce stress levels and ease their depression.

Regular exercise outdoors has been proven to physically alter your brain and improve your brain power.

This is a great alternative to health conscious people who prefer to avoid prescription medications for more natural remedies when possible.

Improve ADHD Symptoms in Children

Children are being diagnosed with ADHD at record rates.

Those effected struggle to control impulses, are easily distracted, find it difficult to focus, as well as tend to exhibit excessive hyperactivity.

The typical course of action is to medicate these children; however, studies show this may be doing more harm than good.

Researchers Frances E. Kup, PHD, and Andrea Faber Tayler, PHD, report findings that exposing children to “green outdoor activities” significantly reduces symptoms of ADHD without medication.

Boost Your Creative Problem Solving

It can be hard to focus on the task at hand when your attention is divided.

Technology at your fingertips gives every other aspect of your life, whether it be your social life, personal life or work responsibilities access to you at any moment.

The constant ping of a received email or text message that you instinctively check immediately keeps those responsibilities in the front of your mind at every moment of the day.

This makes it extremely difficult to focus on any one thing completely. Combine this with the hustle and bustle of an urban environment, and relaxing is next to impossible as it is hard to quiet your mind to think creatively or effectively problem solve in any one area.

In a study conducted by Ruth Ann Atchly and David L. Strayer, participants were asked to spend four days backpacking in nature completely tech free.

They were assigned different tasks that required complex problem solving and creativity.

The results of the experiment showed a 50% increase in performance over similar tasks assigned in an urban environment with technology at hand.

Unplugging from the world proved to drastically increase participant’s creative thinking abilities.

More Exercise = More Brainpower

Any form of exercise is beneficial to your overall health, and studies show that people who exercise outdoors are more likely to stick to their exercise program.

Hiking can burn up to 400-700 calories per hour, is suitable for anyone of any age, and is one of the most affordable modes of exercise.

Not only is it good for your overall health physically, but it is also proven to be very beneficial in boosting memory.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia report evidence that aerobic exercise causes a notable increase in hippocampal volume, the portion of the brain that controls spatial and episodic memory among female participants over 70 years of age.

Hiking in nature also helps to reduce stress, improve self-esteem and releases endorphins, improving one’s over all emotional well-being.

#JustDoIt

Whether you are looking to calm those inner voices screaming negativity into your life every day, or are looking to improve focus or overall physical and emotional well-being, experts recommend unplugging from the world and plugging into nature.

Start small and start slow, gradually increasing the length and difficulty of your hikes. For best results, turn off your cell phone and plug into the soothing sounds of nature.

Take your time and breathe the fresh air, appreciate the natural beauty around you and allow it to quiet your mind and soothe your soul.

Not sure where to hike?

There are a number of great hiking smartphone apps available to find the best trails in your area.

Doing this regularly will have you feeling better, able to focus more and ready to handle anything life throws your way!

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