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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 November 11, 2018

              How to Gain Muscle Fast (The Healthy And Natural Way)

              How to Gain Muscle Fast (The Healthy And Natural Way)

              There’s a common misconception that building muscle occurs entirely in the gym from exercise and lifting weights. In this article, we are going to debunk this notion that weight lifting and gym exercise yields 100%, or even 90% for that matter, of muscle building results.

              So how to gain muscle fast in a healthy way?

              Yes working-out is a critical aspect of developing muscle, however it should not be the focal point. Building muscle occurs primarily outside of the gym by way of diet/eating habits, and sleep regimen.

              How Is Muscle Developed?

              Muscle is developed from damaging the tissue during exercise, and facilitating the most optimal circumstances for repair and growth of those same tissues. This means you will not only need to exercise, but you should focus on carbohydrates around your exercises, and adequate rest and recovery between workouts.

              If your focus is building muscle and not losing weight, focusing on a high-carb diet with carb loading around the workout days will yield great results. Yes, you absolutely can lose fat and build muscle following a low-carb diet, but you’ll make faster progress if you follow a high-carb diet instead. Now don’t take that as a green-light to stuff your face with pasta, bread, and all sorts of other carb-heavy foods.

              Let’s examine Glycogen – a multibranched polysaccharide of glucose that serves as a form of energy storage in humans. Muscle glycogen is a form of carbohydrate that’s stored in your muscles and liver. Glycogen is the primary source of fuel during exercise, and low glycogen levels decreases your ability to gain strength and muscle. The best way to maintain high levels of muscle glycogen is to eat a high-carb diet, with around 1 to 3 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.

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              The time of ingestion of a carbohydrate supplement on muscle glycogen storage post exercise was examined in a study with twelve male cyclists that exercised continuously for 70 min on a cycle ergometer at 68% VO2max, interrupted by six 2-min intervals at 88% VO2max, on two separate occasions. The results suggest that delaying the ingestion of a carbohydrate supplement post-exercise will result in a reduced rate of muscle glycogen storage.

              How to Gain Muscle Fast?

              If you want to gain muscle as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible, then you want high muscle glycogen levels. Here’s a few effective approaches to building muscle:

              Muscle Growth and Glycogen Levels

              The primary driver of gaining muscle and its growth is progressive tension overload, which involves exposing your muscles to increasingly greater levels of tension over time. The most effective way to achieve this is to get as strong as possible on heavy compound lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift, over head press, bent over barbell rows..etc).

              When you keep glycogen levels high, you’re going to gain strength faster, which means gaining muscle faster, too. Having higher levels of muscle glycogen will more than likely help you build muscle faster.

              Maintaining high muscle glycogen levels also improves post-workout genetic signaling relating to muscle growth and repair.

              Muscle Recovery and Glycogen Levels

              Not only do higher muscle glycogen levels yield quicker strength gains, it will also improve recovery between workouts.

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              On the contrary, low muscle glycogen levels are associated with overtraining, and even increasingly popular low-carb diets, which deplete muscle glycogen. Low glycogen levels also increase cortisol and reduce testosterone levels in athletes, which is a key component needed for building muscle.

              Those on a low-carb diets also have reduced insulin levels. Insulin, in addition to helping store nutrients, also has powerful anti-catabolic properties. Basically insulin decreases the rate at which muscle proteins are broken down, which in turn creates a more anabolic environment conducive to muscle growth and development.

              Intermittent Fasting (“IF”) and Testosterone

              Fasting is not just a beneficial way to manage your weight, caloric intake, and start shredding as I have indicated in previous articles. Some research shows that fasting can be a source of strength enhancement and increases in testosterone stimulation.

              As humans age metabolism slows and testosterone production decreases, this simply means that the body will no longer be able to work as efficiently as it did in earlier years. This is one of the primary reasons why you should take more care to your diet.

              Research has shown that intermittent fasting can enhance the ability to secrete growth hormone in the body.[1] This is one of the primary reasons why IF is one of the preferred dietary habits of bodybuilders and strength athletes such as myself, whom will utilize an approach that emphasizes fasting phases (2 of 7 days of the week for example).

              Research has also shown that IF can increase the bodies ability to signal luteinizing hormone.[2] In non-obese men, an intermittent fasting testosterone study showed that IF increased LH (luteinizing hormone – a testosterone precursor hormone) up to 67% and overall testosterone 180%.

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              Luteinizing hormone is one that works in both men and women to enhance our ability to be sexually active and productive. In women, luteinizing hormone can trigger ovulation, and in men, works to stimulate testosterone.

              Intermittent fasting also increases levels of a hormone called adiponectin. This increase in adiponectin during the fast helps improve insulin sensitivity. Adiponectin is so effective, in fact, that it’s been shown to reverse insulin resistance in mice.

              Gaining Muscle and Macro Nutrients – Protein!

              Something that absolutely cannot go overlooked is the protein consumption. Personally, I believe protein should be primarily consumed in food, however if looking to gain muscle, it can often be quite difficult to hit daily macro nutrient requirements.

              If one is to build muscle consistently a general rule of thumb is to aim for 1-1.5grams of protein per pound of body weight on a daily basis. So as a 200lb man I would be needing to consume 200grams – 250grams of protein per day. I would aim for the higher consumption on days when very active and training.

              As I’m sure you’re aware, it can often be quite difficult to consume that much protein, especially in food! It’s in these cases where supplementing protein isn’t a bad idea and I have discussed in great detail the different types of protein in previous articles.

              Generally speaking, I lean towards Whey Protein Isolate, or non-dairy options such as Hemp Protein, or Pea Protein. As of late I have been waking up every morning and consuming one scoop of Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein Bovines from grass-fed beef. Collagen peptides are highly bioavailable and act as building blocks; renewing bodily tissues such as skin, bones and joints.[3]

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              Collagen peptides may act as a messenger to the cells and trigger the synthesis and reorganization of new collagen fibers, thereby supporting tissue structure. Consuming protein such as Collagen in the morning is beneficial as the stomachs acids are needed to optimally break-down and absorb protein.

              Though this has been a topic of great debate, I also firmly believe adequate carbohydrates are required to build muscle, especially if you are exercising/training often. With all the low-carb movements floating around the internet, there’s lots of misinformation. Muscle-building requires energy which is typically through an increased intake of carbohydrates.

              Yes to gain mass, you have to ensure you’re consuming enough protein to rebuild muscle tissue damaged from training; but also consider carbohydrates because gaining size requires filling your muscles with glycogen as we discussed earlier in this article.

              Conclusion

              If you’re serious about gaining muscle fast the healthy way, it requires commitment and consistency. You will need to exercise and I highly suggest you download MyFitnessPal to track progress, set goals, and maintain diet.

              It’s also motivational because you can find like-minded people in the fitness community, or encourage your friends to download the app as well and follow each other. I personally did this when I was losing weight and gaining muscle, and it was a blast to see my own progress and that of people I care about.

              As always I’m not just here to write about the steps you need to take, I’m also here to help! You can message me anytime or email me with any questions you may have. I’m more than happy to assist with your muscle building and weight loss goals!

              Featured photo credit: Arthur Edelman via how to gain muscle fast

              Reference

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