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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

              Marketing Consultant | Content Strategist | Freelance Writer

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              Last Updated on March 3, 2021

              9 Meal Planning Apps That Will Help You Eat Healthier

              9 Meal Planning Apps That Will Help You Eat Healthier

              Planning your meals is one of the best ways to save money and eat healthy at the same time. When you make a meal plan before you shop, you are not only making for a less stressful week, but you are giving yourself a chance to eat a healthier diet. Planned meals allow you to avoid mindless snacking and stay in control of your caloric intake. Meal planning apps utilize technology to help you lay out your meals for the week and put you in control of your food.

              Let’s take a look at 9 meal planning apps that will place you on the road to healthier eating.

              1. Pepperplate

                 

                Pepperplate hopes to make meal planning easier in various ways. Firstly, attacking the indecision that comes with coming up with meal choices, Pepperplate allows individuals to organize the recipes they find on the application, as well as those they add themselves to their personal Pepperplate account.

                It works as a grocery list companion as well. From there, Pepperplate walks you through recipe instructions to prepare meals in a snap. By planning meals ahead of time, days, or even weeks in advance, you can ensure that your favorite recipes are there for you when you need them.

                Price: Free

                Get the app here:Android

                2. Paprika

                Paprika Recipe Manager 3 App – Mobile and Tablet Apps Online Directory – AppsDiary

                   

                  Paprika works by making its way into every part of your digital life. On your computer as both an application and website, Paprika also finds itself on multiple mobile platforms, as well, making it one of the most accessible meal planning apps. This allows you to grab recipes you find just about anywhere and have them added to your list.

                  This is, of course, with all of the features that we come to expect from meal prep applications, including advanced grocery lists, the ability to plan meals well in advance, and adjusted recipes.

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                  Price: $4.99

                  Get the app here: iOSAndroid

                  3. Ziplist

                  ZipList's Grocery List & Recipe Search App Gets Overhauled | TechCrunch

                     

                    Along with weekly meal plans, with Ziplist individuals are able to also get coupons to ensure that they are continuously saving money while also saving the stress of coming up with creative meals. From food sites, you constantly have a curation of unique and tasty meals to choose from.

                    The web recipe clipper that can be found on the ZipList allows you to constantly add new recipes to the app. Furthermore, ZipList allows individuals to share recipes. This is a great way to get input on the dinner selection for the night.

                    Price: Free

                    Get the app here: iOS, Android

                    4. AllRecipes Dinner Spinner

                    Allrecipes Dinner Spinner App Review - Appedus App Review

                      Using various categories, including cuisine, dietary restrictions, and even cooking time, you are able to make a weekly meal plan that will always keep things interesting with this meal planning app. As a great way to remember your meal plans, the web component of Allrecipes’s meal planning tool allows you to also print the plan for the week. This is great to put on your refrigerator to let the family know what to expect for dinner each night.

                      Furthermore, videos are available to ensure that you don’t get lost in the recipe instructions.

                      Price: Free

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                      Get the app here: iOS, Android

                      5. MealBoard

                      The Best Meal-Planning Apps for 2021 | Digital Trends

                         

                        After we go to the grocery store, we don’t use our whole supply of purchases on one meal. We usually have some left over that can be used to create new meals. MealBoard makes use of these leftover ingredients in the recommendation of new meals from the application.

                        By looking at the old meals you have included in your meal plans, you are able to use the leftover coriander or cauliflower from older recipes you had that week. Along with this, you have the other obvious features, like shopping lists and sharing. You can also make constant adjustments to your meal plans when cravings change.

                        Price: $2.99

                        Get the app hereiOS

                        6. Love Food Hate Waste

                        Best eco-friendly apps to go green in 2018

                           

                          Similar to how the previous application allows you to make use of leftover ingredients for meal planning, Love Food Hate Waste makes use of leftover meals to give you new suggestions. Along with being cost conscious and health conscious, this application is also environmentally conscious in reducing the amount of waste that comes with planning and cooking a new meal every single night, making it one of the best meal planning apps for those who want to give Mother Nature a helping hand.

                          All meals come with step-by-step instructions, and portion control is a focus of this application as well to ensure you’re staying healthy.

                          Price: Free

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                          Get the app here: iOS, Android

                          7. Menu Planner

                             

                             

                            Menu Planner is another application with many of the features we come to expect, but it’s only available for iOS. There’s also the feature of ingredient shopping based on cost and the store in your town.

                            The UI is very navigable and allows you to split your meals based on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack. You can create meals based on ingredients already in your pantry or make use of the convenient shopping list to go to the store to prepare new meals.

                            Price: $2.99

                            Get the app here: iOS

                            8. Cook Smarts

                            Cook Smarts Makes Meal Planning Easy for Busy Families - helloyummy

                               

                               

                               

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                              Cook Smarts is the most advanced of all the meal planning apps that we mentioned today. Available as an online application, Cook Smarts is a regimen that not only offers general meal recommendations, but meal plan recommendations based on your preferences and dietary restrictions.

                              Cook Smarts presents videos and other resources to make healthy eating easier and more approachable, all while emphasizing the use of natural ingredients. It helps you learn how to prepare a dish while also offering lessons in the care of produce. Unlike the applications mentioned, Cook Smarts doesn’t just offer the meals to you or even just the step-by-step ingredients; the program gives you tools to carry these tips on for life.

                              Price: $21 / 3 months

                              Get the app here: Website

                              9. Evernote Food

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                                Evernote, the largely popular note-taking application, would be a good application for those looking to plan meals. However, it’s easier to have an application geared toward such a feat, rather than working around one not specified for it. Because of this, Evernote created Evernote Food, which allows you to not only collect recipes, but also pictures of some of the food you encounter, to save and create those meals in your own home.

                                Unlike the other meal planning apps, Evernote Food understands that you won’t find yourself cooking 365 days a year, so the integration of restaurants is a great way of ensuring you can eat out with friends and family and still keep your healthy eating habits on track.

                                Price: Free

                                Get the app hereiOS, Android

                                Final Thoughts

                                If you’re trying to eat healthier and reduce the stress around your meals, meal planning apps are a great place to start. They can help you find interesting recipes, organize your grocery list, and use leftovers from the night before. Choose any of the above to start laying out healthy and delicious meals that will fill your week with tasty foods.

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                                Featured photo credit: Edgar Castrejon via unsplash.com

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