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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 23, 2020

              10 Best Fitness Trackers to Improve Your Health

              10 Best Fitness Trackers to Improve Your Health

              A wise person once said, “health is wealth” and strangely, the year 2020 has been a constant reminder of this.

              Working on our fitness and personal health has now become a part of our daily routine. With the constant pour of medical knowledge and its open accessibility, people now prefer to manage their health on their own. Due to this, we have seen a rise in apps and newly designed devices to provide high-quality service in the field of health management. 

              One of the most innovative and successful additions in this field has been in the form of fitness trackers. This stylish device that goes on the wrist will fool you into mistaking it for any ordinary watch. However, these trackers with their modern features have proven to be lifesavers.

              If you are looking to fulfill your 2020 resolution of “staying healthy and happy”, then I have a list of the best fitness trackers that you just can’t miss.

              I have gone through several fitness trackers reviews including reviews from Techradar, Pcmag, and Wired, and compiled this comprehensive guide on the best fitness trackers that will help you to improve your health.

              1. Fitbit Versa Lite

                Whenever you think of one of the best fitness trackers, the first brand that comes to mind is Fitbit. They started originally about the size of a band, but as the brand has expanded, they now provide fitness tracker watches as well as fitness trackers with heart rate monitor features.

                The beauty of these fitness trackers is they can track everything by this point – from your sleep cycle down to your heart rate. The battery also has a battery life of 4 days before needing to be charged.

                The only drawback is that the tracking isn’t as accurate as it could be in terms of the miles or steps taken. If you don’t mind that discrepancy then it’s no big issue.

                Get this fitness tracker!

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                2. Fitbit Charge 3

                  For those who still love Fitbit but want a budget-friendly option, you have the classic Fitbit. The Charge 3 model offers the same capabilities as the Versa Lite, making it one of the best fitness trackers available out there.

                  The only drawback is that since you are working with a smaller screen, the font is going to be smaller and challenging to read.

                  Get this fitness tracker!

                  3. Garmin Vívoactive 3

                    Looking for another fitness tracker to help you exercise? Try out Garmin’s brand. Garmin offers a wide option of designs of their fitness trackers watches too.

                    Another perk from this fitness tracker is that it offers GPS capabilities and even access to music. You can also use it to make payments with certain bank cards.

                    That being said, this is a more suitable budget option. Comparing this fitness tracker to some of the other best fitness trackers out there, you’ll find this one to be lacking in every area – blurry screen, unstable firmware, and unresponsive at times, especially during workout sessions.

                    Get this fitness tracker!

                    4. Huawei Band 3 Pro

                      For fitness trackers for women, one brand to consider is Huawei’s. Their Band 3 Pro has been out in the market for a few years and takes on a similar design to Fitbit’s Charge 3, except the screen is bigger.

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                      Like other fitness trackers, this offers 50M water resistance, making it ideal to be in pools. It also doubles as a camera, offering a shutter on the device.

                      That said, the fitness tracker can be a little off with its tracking. Furthermore, it offers a limited option of workouts, making it not as ideal of a personal trainer as others.

                      Get this fitness tracker!

                      5. Fitbit Versa 2

                        I already brought up the Vera Lite option, but this is the original. Similar to the Lite variant, this offers the same features and design. It is a bit stronger in that it can last upwards of 6 days on a charge. It also offers other connection features like connecting to Spotify and Alexa. Overall, if you’re looking for how to lose weight and improve health, this is a solid option.

                        There are a few minor gripes about the Versa 2 as well. From having to remove the watch from the case every time to charge it to a few inaccurate tracking, it’s something most can work over if you’re not too picky.

                        Get this fitness tracker!

                        6. Apple Watch Series

                          Naturally, since we’re talking about watches, it makes sense that Apple would appear in this too. There are various apps you can get on any Apple Watch to help you with your health goals. Thus, it could be one of your fitness trackers 2020 options.

                          Apple’s watches provide a host of benefits, including easy syncing with other Apple products, GPS capabilities, and is one of the many waterproof fitness trackers, provided you’re only going for a swim.

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                          The only thing is you can’t rely on it so much for its battery life or the overall design. The battery life isn’t good compared to other fitness trackers. Also, the strap for the watch isn’t the strongest.

                          Get this fitness tracker!

                          7. Samsung Galaxy Fit Black

                            Samsung is another big brand people are familiar with. Samsung is in the market and offers more budget-friendly fitness trackers for people. The overall design of the Fit Black is a mesh of Fitbit’s Charge 3 and Huawei’s Band 3 Pro – a thin band and screen though it covers a long surface.

                            In terms of other unique perks, since Samsung is also in the market for smartphones, this device can connect to smartphones, allowing you to take incoming calls and receive notifications as well. Outside of that, you have the usual fitness tracker perk of being able to monitor water/caffeine intake, heart rate, calories burned, and sleep patterns.

                            One of the downsides of this device is that the features listed above are the extent of what it can do. Also, a longer screen means that it might not fit well on many people’s wrists. 

                            Get this fitness tracker!

                            8. Polar A370

                              Another candidate for one of the best fitness trackers is Polar A370. If you’re looking for something with a simple design and simple features, this is a good pick.

                              This is your barebones fitness tracker in that it’s good at monitoring heart rate and sleep. It’s also compatible with other third-party apps to give you more information as well.

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                              On the flip side, barebones aren’t always what people are looking for. It can give you a good insight into particular issues, but it’s not going to be a solid lifetime fitness tracker.

                              Get this fitness tracker!

                              9. Fitbit Inspire HR

                                For a strong 24-hour fitness tracker, another worthy candidate is Fitbit’s Inspire HR brands. Like many of the Fitbit’s products, it tracks a wide variety of things like calories, heart rate, and sleep. It also tracks other fitness activities with ease like swimming, biking, fast walking, and running.

                                Naturally, there are some downsides as well, though they are minor. From things like a short charge cable to inaccurate tracking of steps, these things come with the territory of fitness trackers.

                                Get this fitness tracker!

                                10. FITFORT

                                  The final fitness tracker we went over is the Fitfort. It’s a cheaper alternative to the other fitness trackers listed here, but it also comes with some unique perks. The biggest of which is that it can measure blood pressure along with other aspects of your personal health, too.

                                  But like other cheap options, you do run the risk of the product breaking down after a while. For some customers, it went downhill in about five months. You may have better luck, but if you’re looking for something that lasts longer, you might want to look at other brands.

                                  Get this fitness tracker!

                                  Final Thoughts

                                  Setting aside minor issues, there are many solid options for good fitness trackers to help you out with weight loss and improving your health. If you’re still torn on what to choose, go for a device that is compatible with your other devices, especially your phone.

                                  More Fitness Tips

                                  Featured photo credit: Bruno Nascimento via unsplash.com

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