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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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              Last Updated on April 2, 2020

              10 Quick Easy Workouts To Lose Arm Fat At Home

              10 Quick Easy Workouts To Lose Arm Fat At Home

              Flabby arms are something a lot of us have to tend to. If you find yourself buying a sweater or cardigan to go with your tank top or usually opt for the long-sleeved dress, then you’re not alone. Usually a result of genes, general excess fat or just ageing, it seems difficult to lose arm fat. The fat in our arms accumulates mainly around the triceps – the muscles on the back of your upper arm – and are prone to getting flabby if not exercised regularly.

              What we eat can also play a part in the extent of the jiggle so eating a good, healthy balanced diet as well as keeping well hydrated can put you on the right track. Resistance exercises are the most effective way to blast that underarm fat as well as strengthen, shape and tone your muscles. You can always go down to the gym and work up a sweat but who has time for that? If you want a convenient and quick alternative then you can easily manage an effective routine in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a set of dumbbells and you can start toning up those bingo wings with these 10 easy workouts.

              1. Tricep dips

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                Works: Triceps

                • Hands must be positioned shoulder width apart on a secured chair or bench.
                • Position your bum in front of the bench with feet hip-width apart on the floor and legs bent.
                • Straighten out your arms a little, keeping a slight bend from the elbow so to put more emphasis on the tricep and less stress on the elbow.
                • Keeping your back close to the bench, slowly lower your body so that your arms are at a 90-degree angle.
                • Once in this position slowly push off your hands back to the starting position.
                • Do 10-15 reps.

                2. Bicep curls

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                  Works: Biceps and shoulders

                  • Start off with your feet hip-distance apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing out.
                  • Starting with your left arm, bend your elbow to slowly bring the weight up to your shoulder holding the position for 5 seconds.
                  • Slowly release the elbow and straighten your arm back down to the starting position.
                  • Repeat the moves on the right side.
                  • Complete 3 sets of 10-15 reps for each arm.

                  3. Push ups

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                    Works: Triceps and Deltoids

                    • Lying face down, place your hands on the floor roughly shoulder-width apart.
                    • Tuck your toes under and gently lift your body up, pushing through your hands and making sure not to lock your elbows.
                    • Slowly bend your elbows bringing your face roughly 2-3 inches from the ground.
                    • Slowly push back up through your arms. If this is difficult then do the same move but keeping your knees on the floor.
                    • Repeat 10-15 times.

                    4. Tricep Kickbacks

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                      Works: Triceps

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                      • Place a weight in each hand and kneel down onto the floor with your toes tucked under.
                      • Bend your upper body forward from the hips up and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle.
                      • Extend both your arms backwards while your palms are facing each other.
                      • Feel the tension in the triceps and return to the starting position.
                      • Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

                      5. Plank

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                        Works: Chest, Shoulders, Biceps and Core

                        • Start face-down on the floor, resting on your forearms and knees.
                        • Step your feet out so that they are slightly apart and come into the plank position.
                        • Make sure your body is straight, parallel to the floor and your bum is tucked in.
                        • Pull your abs in and hold the position for as long as you can. Try to aim for 20-30 seconds and build up to a minute.
                        • Repeat 3 times.

                        6. Tricep Extensions

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                          Works: Triceps

                          • Stand on a mat with your feet hip-width apart.
                          • Hold one dumbbell with both hands behind your head, bending the elbows.
                          • Bring the weight towards the ceiling, straightening your arms above your head.
                          • Lower back to starting position.
                          • Complete 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

                          7. Lateral Arm Raises

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                            Works: Deltoids

                            • Stand with feel hip-width apart. With arms down the side of your body, hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing in.
                            • Starting with your left side, inhale and slowly raise your arm so that it’s parallel to the floor. Make sure not to lock your elbow by keeping a slight bend.
                            • Make sure your arm is straight and palm is facing the floor.
                            • Exhale and slowly bring your arm back down to your side.
                            • Repeat on the right side.
                            • Do 10-15 reps on each side and two sets.

                            8. Overhead Press

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                              Works: Shoulders

                              • Stand up, lining your feet with your hips and hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing out.
                              • Bring the weights to your shoulders.
                              • Keep your core muscles tight and straighten your arms above you.
                              • Slowly bring your arms back down to your shoulders.
                              • Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

                              9. Bent Over Row

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                                Works: Triceps and Biceps 

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                                • Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
                                • Bend your knees and and then bend your upper body forward from the hips making sure you keep your back nice and straight.
                                • Make sure your hands are straight and placed under your shoulders.
                                • Bend the elbows back while lifting your arms towards the sides of your chest, pulling your shoulder blades towards each other.
                                • Slowly lower the weights in a controlled movement and feel the tension at your triceps.
                                • Repeat 10-15 times.

                                10. Skull Crushers

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                                  Works: Triceps

                                  • While holding a dumbbell in each hand, lie on your back with your knees bent.
                                  • Slowly raise your arms so they are above your chest, making sure your elbows are straight but not locked.
                                  • Slowly lower both arms toward your head, bending your elbows to 90 degrees as the dumbbells reach the mat. Aim to lower your weights so they are on either side of your head  with elbows bent and pressing in toward your head (being careful not to hit yourself in the face).
                                  • Lift your arms back to starting position.
                                  • Complete 2 or 3 sets, 10-15 reps each.

                                  Featured photo credit: Maddi Bazzocco via unsplash.com

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