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Doctors Tell Us How Hiking Can Change Our Brains

Doctors Tell Us How Hiking Can Change Our Brains

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves,” wrote John Muir in Our National Parks. Clearly, John Muir understood the intrinsic value of spending time in nature.

Along with Muir, many of us recognize that hiking in nature is good for the body, mind, and soul. Walking through the woods while observing colorful birds and foliage, smelling the aroma of spruce and pine trees, and listening to a soothing running stream simply clear our mind and make us feel good. Lucky for us, doctors agree. Study after study shows there are many mental health benefits to spending time hiking in nature.

Hiking in Nature Reduces Rumination

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    Those who ruminate or focus too much on negative thoughts about themselves can exhibit anxiety, depression, and other issues, such as binge eating or post traumatic stress disorder. In a recent study, researchers investigated whether spending time in nature affects rumination, and they found that hiking in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts.

    In this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through an urban environment and a nature environment. They found that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment, which took place in a grassland near Stanford University, reported lower levels of rumination and also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is associated with mental illness. Those who walked through an urban environment didn’t enjoy these benefits.

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    These researchers indicate that our world is becoming more and more urban and that urbanization is linked to depression and other forms of mental illness. Visibly, simply removing us from an urban environment to spend time outdoors where there are fewer mental stressors, less noise, and fewer distractions can be advantageous for our mental health.

    Hiking While Disconnecting from Technology Boosts Creative Problem Solving

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      According to a study by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer, creative problem solving can be improved by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. In this study, participants hiked while backpacking in nature for approximately four days and they were prohibited from using technology. They were asked to perform tasks requiring creativity and complex problem solving. They found that those immersed in the hiking excursions had increased performance on problem-solving tasks by 50 percent.

      Researchers indicate that technology and the noise of urban areas constantly demand our attention and disturb us from focusing, which taxes our cognitive functions. Thus, when we’re feeling overwhelmed from the stressors of urban life and being plugged-in 24/7, nature hikes can be strong medicine. They reduce our mental fatigue, soothe our minds, and help us think creatively.

      Hiking Outdoors Can Improve ADHD in Children

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        Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common disorder among children. Those with ADHD generally have trouble staying focused, are easily distracted, exhibit hyperactivity, and have difficulty controlling impulses.

        Raising children with ADHD can be perplexing for parents. Nonetheless, great news has emerged from the medical and scientific world. In a study conducted by Frances E. Kuo, PhD and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, researchers found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduced their ADHD symptoms. Thus, according to this study, the benefits of exposure to nature can extend to anyone with inattention and impulsivity.

        Doctors conclude that simple changes that involve green activities or settings can improve attention. For example, increasing exposure to a window seat with a green view, participating in an afternoon nature hike, or simply playing ball in the park can ease unwanted ADHD symptoms.

        Hiking in Nature is Great Exercise, Which Boosts Brainpower

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          We’ve all heard the expression healthy body, healthy mind. Hiking outdoors is an excellent form of exercise and it can burn 400 to 700 calories an hour, depending on the difficulty of the hike. An added benefit is that hiking isn’t as hard on our joints as other forms of exercise, such as running. Also, it’s proven that those who exercise outside are more likely to stick to their exercise programs, which makes hiking an excellent choice for those hoping to integrate exercise into their daily lives.

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          The mind and body are naturally connected. Exercise helps to keep our brain cells nourished and healthy. In fact, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia, aerobic exercise might improve memory and cognitive ability. In the study, they found that aerobic exercise increased the hippocampal volume in older women. The hippocampus is a part of brain associated with spatial and episodic memory.

          Not only does exercise improve cognitive ability and possibly prevent cognitive decline as shown by the study, it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self esteem, and release endorphins (feel-good hormones). It’s astonishing that a physical activity as simple and low-cost as hiking can provide so many mental health benefits.

          Hiking is Now Prescribed by Doctors

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            Has your doctor ever told you to “take a hike?” This isn’t a phrase that we typically want to hear, especially from our doctors, but they actually have our wellbeing in mind. Progressive doctors are now aware that people who spend time in nature enjoy less stress and better physical health.

            According to WebMD, more and more doctors are writing “nature prescriptions” or recommending “ecotherapy” to reduce anxiety, improve stress levels, and to curb depression. Plus, nature prescriptions are becoming more accepted by traditional health care providers as more research shows the benefits of exercising and spending time in nature.

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            The state of California is traditionally one of the more progressive states in the area of alternative health. As an example, the Institute at the Golden Gate has been leading the charge to promote ecotherapy through its “Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP)” initiative. In this program, community organizations work with health professionals to improve the health of their parks, and to promote the use of parks as a passageway to health for the people who use them.

            How Do You Get Started with Hiking?

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              Fortunately, hiking is one of the easiest and least-expensive sports to get involved in, and it’s fun and beneficial for the whole family. If you’re just getting started, don’t plan a Colorado 14er or to hike the Appalachian Trail. You can start small. Check out local short hiking trails and work your way up to a safe and comfortable distance. You can find trail maps online and there are smartphone apps to help you find the best trails for your level and interests.

              Ensure you wear sturdy hiking shoes that are appropriate for the terrain. Consider using trekking poles, which reduce stress on your knees, increase your speed, and improve your stability. Layer clothing as necessary for the weather and wear breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics such as silk, polypropylene, wool, and fleece to reduce sweat and stay warm. Use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect you from the sun. Stay hydrated and have fun!

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              Published on July 9, 2020

              10 Easy At-Home Leg Toning Workouts for Women

              10 Easy At-Home Leg Toning Workouts for Women

              As you grow older, it becomes hard to balance and have stability in your joints if you’re not engaging in leg toning workouts. You start losing muscle mass, strength, and function over time. Furthermore, if you’re physically inactive, you’ll lose 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass each decade after age 30.

              Thankfully, you can still score your strongest legs ever with the help of leg toning workouts. Strong legs help you support your body better and make you more attractive. Also, they are less susceptible to injuries.

              The best part? You don’t need fancy and expensive gym equipment to fire up those leg muscles. You can do that right at home.

              Ready to get strong? Here are the best at-home leg toning workout moves for women.

              1. Bodyweight Squats

                The squat is often referred to as the king of all exercises. It’s an amazing way to tone your legs. Not only does it help you build lean muscle, but it also works your abs, butt, and hips. Also, if you’re suffering from back pain, it’s a great option as it doesn’t strain your back when done right. To do a squat:

                • Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes slightly turned out.
                • Bend at the knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
                • Pause for a moment and push yourself back to your original position.
                • Repeat.

                For extra support, consider doing this near a wall. Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps twice or thrice a week.

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                2. Forward Lunges

                  When it comes to strength training, lunges are one of the most popular choices. It strengthens your legs while improving mobility and stability. Lunges also sculpt your butt and abs. What’s more, it can also help improve your posture. In order to do forward lunges properly:

                  • Stand tall holding a dumbbell in each hand with your feet hip-width apart.
                  • Take a big step forward with your right leg and lower your body into a lunge until both knees are bent 90 degrees.
                  • If possible, lightly touch the floor with your left knee.
                  • Push off on your front foot to bring yourself to the starting position.
                  • Repeat on the other side.

                  Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps on each leg. You can also do it without dumbbells if you’re just getting started.

                  3. Single-Leg Deadlift

                    Single-leg deadlifts targets all the major muscles, such as hamstrings, glutes, and even your core. It develops strength, balance, and stability. Another advantage of doing single-leg deadlifts is that it improves mobility through the legs and hips. To do a single-leg deadlift:

                    • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
                    • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing the front of your thighs.
                    • Lean forward and shift your weight on the left leg with your right leg extended slightly behind you.
                    • Lift your extended right leg until your body is parallel to the floor, arms hanging down.
                    • Slowly return to the starting position.
                    • Repeat and switch legs after doing all the reps.

                    Do 3 sets of 15-20 reps with a 60 second break in between. If you’re new to this, you can also do it without weights.

                    4. Jumping Jacks

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                      Jumping jacks are an excellent leg toning workout move. They work your quadriceps, glutes, and hips. According to one study[1], they may also improve bone density. Additionally, this exercise also increases strength and agility. Here’s how you do jumping jacks:

                      • Stand straight with your legs together and arms to your sides.
                      • Jump into the air and spread your legs slightly beyond shoulder-width apart while your arms stretch over your head.
                      • Jump back quickly, bringing yourself to the starting position.
                      • Repeat.

                      Start with 3 sets of 10 or more repetitions of jumping jacks.

                      5. Single-Leg Calf Raise

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                        The single-leg calf raise strengthens both your lower legs and helps improve balance on one foot. This is important because it can improve sports performance and prevent injuries. Furthermore, it can also help prevent the onset of knee pain. Finally, it may also increase the size of your calves. To do a single-leg calf raise:

                        • Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and arms on your hips.
                        • Bend your left knee and bring it hip-level.
                        • Lift your right heel off the ground and balance on the ball of your foot.
                        • Pause for a moment and lower your heel.
                        • Repeat and then switch sides.

                        Do 3 sets of 15-20 reps on each leg. Consider adding weight to make it more difficult.

                        6. Side Lunges

                          This leg toning workout move targets the sides of the glutes and quadricep muscles. It’s also a great exercise for tight hips and groin. Needless to say, it strengthens both your legs and boosts stability. To execute a side lunge the right way:

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                          • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hands clasped in front of your chest.
                          • Take a big step out to the right and lower your right knee until it is bent 90 degrees while pushing your butt back.
                          • Keep your left leg straight during the process.
                          • Push back and return to the starting position.
                          • Repeat.

                          Shoot for 10-12 reps and switch sides. Aim for 3 sets on each leg.

                          7. Plank Leg Lifts

                            Plank leg lifts work your butt and upper legs. With this exercise, you’ll also be able to get the benefits of a regular plank, meaning it will tone your whole body. It trains your core, glutes, and shoulders. Even better? It also trims body fat and improves posture. To do a plank leg lift:

                            • Begin in a low plank position with your body straight and weight on your forearms.
                            • Tighten your abs and raise your right leg, pausing for a moment.
                            • Lower your right leg and do the same with your left leg.
                            • Repeat.

                            Do 2-3 sets of 15 reps. Brace your abs and glutes during the process.

                            8. Glute Bridge

                              The glute bridge makes one of the best leg toning workouts for beginners. It sculpts your legs and improves hip mobility. If done correctly, it also enhances core stability. This exercise is also safe for people with chronic back pain. To do a glute bridge:

                              • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your arms at your sides.
                              • Squeeze your abs and glutes.
                              • Raise your hips off the floor until your shoulder, hips, and knees are in a straight line.
                              • Pause for a few seconds and return to the starting position.
                              • Repeat.

                              Shoot for 2 sets of 10-12 reps. Do this 2-3 times a week. You can also wrap a resistance band around your thighs to challenge your endurance.

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                              9. Step-Ups

                                If you’re looking to strengthen your thighs, step-ups are an excellent choice. It targets the quadricep muscle that helps protect the knee. What’s more, it also improves balance and stability. You can do step-ups anywhere. All you have to do is find a bench, chair or any raised platform. To do a step-up properly:

                                • Begin standing facing a step.
                                • Place your right foot on the step and left foot on the floor.
                                • Press through your right heel and bring the left foot up until your left knee forms a 90-degree angle.
                                • Hold this position for a moment and then return to the starting position.
                                • Repeat and switch legs.

                                Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps on each side. To make it harder, hold dumbbells in your hands.

                                10. Dumbbell Good Morning

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                                  Dumbbell good mornings mainly target the hamstrings, but they also improve hip and back strength. You’ll also be able to develop stronger glutes with this exercise. Overall, it’s a great exercise for toning your legs. To perform this exercise:

                                  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent while holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level.
                                  2. Hinge forward at your hips, and lower your torso until it is parallel to the floor.
                                  3. Hold this position for 4-5 seconds and return to your original position.
                                  4. Repeat.

                                  Aim for 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

                                  Final Thoughts

                                  There are so many benefits of having well-toned legs. Stronger legs not only look good, but they also give you greater independence as you age. Therefore, it’s important to take good care of them.

                                  In addition to exercise, you should also consider exfoliation and moisturization to keep your legs smooth, healthy, and firm. Always remember that strong legs are important if you want to live a healthy and active life. So, start working those leg muscles today, and you’ll thank yourself later.

                                  More Tips on Strengthening Your Legs

                                  Featured photo credit: Sergio Pedemonte via unsplash.com

                                  Reference

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