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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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              Marilyn Rogers

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              Last Updated on September 4, 2018

              How to Get Rid of Sore Muscles Fast (What Works And What Doesn’t)

              How to Get Rid of Sore Muscles Fast (What Works And What Doesn’t)

              Avoiding sore muscles requires several commitments to your overall health and well-being. We’re going to examine several aspects of how to recover from workouts, and how to avoid sore muscles.

              Avoiding sore muscles isn’t something you merely achieve through dietary habits; it requires dedication to the full recovery of your body by way of sleep, and pre-habilitation – the primitive rehabilitation of your body which is typically done as post workout stretching and mobility.

              I would like to preface this article by saying that I’m an Ambassador for MobilityWOD – health and fitness organization founded by Dr. Kelly Starrett,[1] the author of NY Times Best Seller Becoming A Supple Leopard. That means I promote mobility and an overall top to bottom healthy lifestyle. I partnered with MobilityWOD because we share a common goal of helping people move better and live healthier, longer.

              Sore muscles can occur in several ways that aren’t just exercise, such as illness or injury. We’re going to just focus on sore muscle recovery from exercise, however some of these remedies are applicable to the other aforementioned causes of sore muscles.

              We’re going to cover quick fix remedies for sore muscles that you can apply immediately, as well as preventative things you can do to avoid sore muscles in the future. So let’s get to it!

              What are sore muscles?

              Sore muscles as a result of exercise, occur due to delayed-onset muscle soreness (or DOMS), which begins hours afterward and peaks (on average) around one to two days.

              Generally, exercise scientists agree that people who experience muscle soreness are doing so as a result of muscle damage and rebuilding. Proteins exit the injured cells while fluid and white blood cells rush to rebuild.

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              Over time, muscle cells are repaired and new cells are developed – all being injected with contractile proteins. Some or all of this process may be inexorably linked with muscle soreness.

              How do muscles get sore?

              There’s many fitness experts that I’ve encountered who preach they do not experience muscle soreness, and contrary to that many still do.

              I’m of the belief that ‘newer lifters’ or those ‘new to exercise’ will experience soreness more dramatically when compared to those that have been working out for several years.

              Now if you’re reading this and thinking “c’mon Adam, I’m going to experience muscle soreness more because I’m new to exercise?!?”, I get it you!

              Here’s the upside, it’s because there’s SO much growth for you to do! Personally having been training for several years, I still notice sore muscles when working out muscle groups that I don’t normally, such as doing a day of just shoulder raises and presses (bodybuilding style) – I’ll feel the DOMs for sure.

              However, if I do a heavy deadlift workout, generally I’ll avoid DOMs due to my recovery regimen (which I’ll share below) and because its an exercise I perform often.

              Those that have been exercising for several years, and of course not including those that use steroids or other recovery substances, are close to/approaching their genetic potential in terms of muscle mass.

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              There’s several online calculators for Lean Body Mass which can come close to revealing your genetic potential by measuring limb length, and bone density. I suggest a quick google search and use several to compare as they may vary slightly in result, however you can try Drug Free Muscle & Strength Potential calculator created by ‘Stronger by Science ‘.

              Myths about sore muscles

              There’re many myths to cover, but let’s quickly hit a few:

              Myth #1: Leaving sore muscles to heal on their own is the best thing to do?

              Common misconception! In fact it’s often a good idea to perform light exercise to aid in recovery by way of promoting blood and oxygen circulation to the muscles, and Synovial fluid within the joints.

              Synovial Fluid – also known as synovia, is a viscous, non-Newtonian fluid found in the cavities of synovial joints. The principal purpose of synovial fluid is to reduce friction between the articular cartilage of synovial joints during movement.

              Often if you leave sore muscles without doing mobility or stretching after training, you’ll end up shortening your range of motion (due to tightness) and healing those muscles in less than optimal positions (end-ranges of motion) and circumstances.

              Myth #2: It’s a bad idea to workout with sore muscles?

              Light exercise can actually help in recovery, but don’t go heavy or over-exert yourself as it can be counter productive.

              Myth #3: Eating or protein shake immediately after a workout will prevent sore muscles?

              This is ultimate bro-science, and though consuming a fast acting carb may help with muscle discomfort/aches after a workout, there’s nothing which directly proves that immediately consuming a protein shake after a workout will reduce muscle soreness or DOMs.

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              Myth #4: DOMs have nothing to do with sleep?

              The majority of muscle repair is done during REM sleep.

              Myth #5: DOMs have nothing to do with gut health?

              During deep sleep/REM sleep, the body heals and recovers muscles through the gastrointestinal tract, which directly correlates with GUT Health.

              How to get rid of sore muscles fast

              Here’s how you get rid of sore muscles quickly after exercise…

              1. Refine what you eat

              One important aspect of muscle recovery is quality protein.

              Don’t go reaching for your synthetic, or all natural protein powders and expect to avoid sore muscles entirely. Aim high for quality sources of protein, and amino acid complexes that will put you on the path to muscle repair, rebuilding, and recovery.

              Here’s some suggestions below for sources of protein.

              • Meat – Various types of beef steaks
              • Poltry – Chicken, pheasant, goose, turkey..etc
              • Fish – Salmon, tilapia, cod, halibut, haddock..etc
              • Hemp or pea protein – If you are deficient of hitting your macro nutrient requirements (typically 1g – 2g of protein per lb of body weight while recovering from exercise), then add a bit of these protein powder sources to your diet. Avoid whey protein, or isolate if you can, however if that’s all you have access to, it will suffice.

              Checkout my recent article on Healthy Food to Gain Muscle.

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              Try these anti inflammatory remedies:

              • Krill Oil (suggested) or wild Alaskan salmon fish oil – The natural fatty acids and antioxidants are known to aid in pain relief. Krill oil will naturally help reduce inflammation and decrease pain within your joints, and in turn help recover muscles by improving overall circulation.
              • Probiotic (supplement or natural plain greek yogurt such as kefir). Your gut health is important and reducing inflammation means less soreness!
              • Hemp oil or CBD oil (non psychoactive). Excellent way to reduce potential inflammation and recover from muscle soreness quickly.
              • Pain relief topical creams – There’s loads of options to choose from, and though many are not 100% proven, some have been said to be quite effective at temporarily mitigating pain from muscle soreness. These are a great quick fix if you want to reduce discomfort and ‘turn down’ before bed.[2]

              2. Treat your body well

              Besides refining your diet, you should do something about your body and muscle:

              • Epsom salt bath with essential oils if you have them available.
              • Compression lightly applied to promote warmth and blood flow – Don’t overdue it because you can stop circulation, which is the opposite of what we’re going for!
              • Massage or acupuncture is something I’ve tried many times over and it has proven results by improving circulation and blood flow to the muscles to aid in recovery.
              • Stretching and mobility is an absolute must! Pre-workout active mobility and foam rolling, followed by post workout static stretching. When you perform stretching and mobility you’re improving circulation and the end-range of those muscle groups by elongating them to their fullest. When your muscles are sore and tight, it’s often because they have been strained, damaged from training, and shortened as a result. We need to open up your range and elongate the muscles with stretching for optimal recovery.
              • Light exercise and walking can be extremely effective for aiding in recovery by promoting circulation.

              3. Have sufficient sleep

              Sleeping is an absolute must for muscle recovery and to avoid muscle soreness! I cannot stress this enough! Please do yourself a favor and get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, and 8-9 hours as needed on days when the workout was extra strenuous.

              You do the majority of your muscle repair when the muscles shut down during heavy deep sleep states. Protein synthesis occurs under conditions of sleep but it occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, not the muscles. Research suggests that it’s during REM (Rapid Eye Movement: explained later) sleep that the body is able to: restore organs, bones, and tissue; replenish immune cells; and circulate human growth hormone.

              Conclusion

              Thought sore muscles aren’t something you can do away with entirely, and honestly who would want to? It tells you that your exercise efforts are not in vein!

              If your muscles are sore, it means you’re putting them to work and they’re rebuilding and growing as we examined earlier.

              No one wants to be completely frozen in soreness the day after training, so if you use these quick remedies for muscle soreness and preventative modalities, I’m confident you’ll be on track for sore muscle pain alleviation along with muscle and strength gains in no time!

              Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

              Reference

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