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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 13, 2018

              13 Pregnancy Yoga Exercises for The Last Trimester

              13 Pregnancy Yoga Exercises for The Last Trimester

              Practicing yoga during pregnancy is a great way to nurture you and your baby. It can also help you cope and prepare both your mind and body for any pregnancy demands and challenges that you may face especially during the third trimester.

              Yoga during pregnancy helps you to create space for both your baby and your internal organs. However, make sure that you only do what feels right and works, avoid muscle strains and extreme pressure exercises.

              There are plenty of yoga techniques that can help you to prepare for labor in the 3rd trimester. Before you try out yoga, make sure you talk to your doctor. This way, you may know the do and don’t during this stage. The following are some of the common yoga exercises to try out during the third trimester.

              1. Birth prep exercises

              This mainly entails simple exercise designed to reduce pains and aches and can as well as help position the baby in a good pelvic alignment. Include this technique in your workout rest brakes, warm-up, and as part of your daily poses.

              Here’s an example of it:

              2. Cat cow

                This is a great pose for lengthening your spine and strengthen your core muscles.[1]

                This pose is a great technique for all pregnancy stages. It will help strengthen your belly as the pregnancy continues to grow.

                This asana also relieves the back and allow a better circulation of spinal fluids and blood.

                Practice belly breathing when performing this pose. It will aid in calming your mind and reducing morning sickness.

                It should be done about 5 times for best results.

                3. Warrior II

                  This technique is great for strengthening your core and legs and as well as lengthen your spine. Even though this technique is a little bit challenging, it is said to help alleviate backaches during pregnancy.

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                  4. Bridge pose

                    This pose is convenient if you want to open up your hips and strengthen your glutes, core, and hamstrings.[2] Also, it can be practiced in all the trimesters.

                    Begin on the side and roll to the back as you move your body into a bridge pose. This helps avoid stressing your rectus abdominals.

                    Avoid this exercise if you feel uncomfortable on your back.

                    5. Cobblers pose (Baddha Konasana)

                      This technique is said to improve the health of the reproductive system.[3] During pregnancy, it aids in opening up the pelvis, therefore ensuring an easy and fast labor.

                      It is also said to calm the mind and improve blood circulation. This yoga practice can be performed as follows:

                      • Sit on a mat and stretch out your legs.
                      • Fold your knees and bring your feet at the center.
                      • Then straighten your back.
                      • Using your palms hold your feet for a few seconds.
                      • Release.
                      • Repeat this about 4 times.

                      6. Warrior I

                        This technique helps you explore your upper body. It helps to open up your chest and strengthen your legs. This technique helps restore the health of your spine and help make space for the growing uterus.

                        Also, it helps your mind relax and stay focused and maintain balance. It can be performed as follows;

                        • Place your feet apart in a hip-width position.
                        • Pivot on the left foot.
                        • Make your right foot to face forward.
                        • Lower the pelvis, then assume a lunge.
                        • Look forward and lift your arms above your head.
                        • Hold that position as long as possible.
                        • Release the pose.
                        • Repeat the process with the left foot forward.

                        7. Corpse pose

                          This technique aims at relaxing your body and mind.[4] It boosts your energy instantly and hence it’s convenient for battling any fatigue during the pregnancy.

                          Also, it helps in fighting off any side effects of pregnancy such as pain, morning sickness, and nausea. This pose can be performed as follows:

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                          • Lie on your back.
                          • Let your palms rest beside you while facing upwards.
                          • Close your eyes and then relax- your arms should be alongside your body.
                          • Breathe.

                          8. Spiraling movement

                          This entails moving your pelvis in circular motions and moving your hips. These movements help to massage down the baby’s head onto the cervix.

                          Also, these movements helps you keep your pelvis mobile and relaxed while loosening your muscles and ligaments.

                          You may consider using a fitness ball to help in the movements.

                          9. Child’s pose

                            This is a resting pose. It helps to focus on your breath, breathe more deeply, and also it’s a good position to rest between labor contractions.[5]

                            This is a great position that will help you find peace and promote a healthy and a happy pregnancy. It’s safe for all trimesters.

                            Relax and move your knees apart, then rest your head on your fists, hand, or on the floor. You should avoid this position if your pubic symphysis is sore or open. Relax in this position, eyes closed.

                            10. Chanting

                            Making your own sounds during pregnancy and birth is a powerful way to regulate your breathing, it enables you to focus and relax as you deal with the pain that is associated with pregnancy and labor.

                            Practicing voice sounds can help you open up and have an easier and more comfortable labor. You can do this as follows:

                            • Sit comfortably.
                            • Close your eyes.
                            • Placing your index fingers on the lobes of your ears, take a deep breath.
                            • Exhaling slowly, make gentle humming sounds.
                            • Do this 5 to 10 times.
                            • You can also do this while lying down with arms by the side of the body.

                            11. Standing hip rotations

                              This moves will help strengthen your pelvis as well as relax.[6] You can do this as follows:

                              • Stand with feet wide apart but comfortable.
                              • Slightly bend your knees.
                              • Place your hands on your hips and rotate your hips.
                              • Try to keep your upper body still.
                              • Focus on rotating the hips and the belly.
                              • Inhale while moving your hips forward and exhale while moving them backward.
                              • Do this as many times as you wish.

                              12. Tree pose

                                This is a balancing technique. It helps strengthening your legs and core. It also improves posture and alleviates back pain. How to perform this pose:

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                                • Feet on the ground, shift your weight forward and backward until you gain balance.
                                • Shift your weight to one foot.
                                • You can also lift one of your foot to your ankle to gain balance.
                                • Bring the foot higher to your inner thigh.
                                • Put your hands in a prayer position.
                                • Hold this for 5 breaths.
                                • You can also raise the arms above your head.
                                • Repeat with the other leg.

                                This technique is safe for all stages during pregnancy.

                                13. Meditation

                                Over the years, meditation has been used to manage a lot of conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety, and much more.

                                During the last trimester of your pregnancy, meditation can help to move gracefully as you approach labor. It will help you ascertain a more peaceful state of mind by avoiding stress and anxiety especially if you are giving birth for the first time.

                                Develop the habit of practicing meditation on a daily basis.

                                Guidelines for pregnancy yoga

                                There are some poses, however, that you should avoid while pregnant. They include plank cross, locust pose, boat pose, plow pose, and much more. Consult with your doctor on the best exercises.

                                Here’re some guidelines you need to know before practicing yoga:

                                1. Do what feels right.

                                Starting yoga especially in your last trimester can be challenging while it’s really important in preparing both your mind and body for labor and pregnancy-related demands.

                                To avoid accidents or extreme positions, you should practice yoga poses with the guidance of a trained tutor.

                                When choosing which yoga poses to perform, listen to your body and do what you feel comfortable doing. Since all women do not have the same challenges and experience during pregnancy, avoid doing poses that your friends are doing if they don’t feel right to you.

                                2. Do fewer poses.

                                In case you are into physical exercises, it’s important to soften your training to avoid harming both your body and the health of the baby. Also, avoid long hours of training. You can talk to your doctor to guide you on the most convenient techniques to practice.

                                During pregnancy, your body tends to have higher temperatures and it may feel hotter than usual. It’s recommended to avoid practicing yoga in a heated environment. Perform these techniques in a suitable environment with fresh and adequate ventilation.

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                                3. Don’t get distracted.

                                Reduce distraction while practicing yoga. For instance, a telephone can interfere with proper meditation.

                                4. Stay comfortable.

                                Wear loose and comfortable clothing.

                                5. Do not eat before yoga.

                                Practice yoga on empty stomach. Most techniques are effective in the morning.

                                6. Always warm up for a few minutes.

                                You can walk around, loosen your joints, move your limbs and warm up your muscles.

                                7. Stay hydrated.

                                Make sure that you are well hydrated especially when practicing challenging and sweaty poses. Dehydration, especially during the last trimester of your pregnancy can have severe sequences such as false early labor or preterm labor.

                                Yoga techniques are the best kinds of workouts to try out during pregnancy. Especially if practiced together with mild exercises such as walking, it can help the expectant mother deal with both emotional and physical changes with ease.

                                Also, it will help mothers feel relaxed and stay in shape during the last trimester of pregnancy.

                                Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

                                Reference

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