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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 February 18, 2019

              8 Best Cardio Workouts for Efficient Weight Loss

              8 Best Cardio Workouts for Efficient Weight Loss

              When people think of cardio, usually a boring treadmill, elliptical machine, or other mundane activity comes to mind. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

              When you’re short on time or easily distracted, there are a variety of fat-burning cardio alternatives that will increase your body’s metabolism, boost weight loss, and keep you interested.

              Here’s a list of different types of cardio workouts:

              • Steady State (Burns less fat, but isn’t as demanding on the body)
              • Interval Training (Burns more fat)
              • HIIT
              • Spinning
              • Stairs
              • Weight Training (Supersets) short rest periods
              • Weight Training (Compound Sets) short rest periods
              • Machine Circuit Training

              And I’m going to talk about each of them in detail:

              1. Steady State

              Steady state cardio involves working at a low to moderate intensity — around 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate, for a sustained period of time. This type of cardio doesn’t burn a huge number of calories, but it does burn a high percentage of fat tissue for fuel, and it isn’t too draining.

              An example of steady state cardio would be a long outdoor walk at a moderate pace. Interval training, on the other hand, is much more intense.

              2. Interval Training

              Similar to HIIT but with exercises that are slightly longer in duration, interval training alternates levels of intensity. For example, if you enjoy running, you would run or sprint for 30 seconds, then bring down your heart rate and walk for two minutes.

              Pick two intensities per interval, usually one at 85 percent of your maximum heart rate and the other at 60 percent, and alternate between them. I find that 85% for 30 seconds and 60% for one minute, not only burns more calories but increases my energy level as well.

              Another example would be jumping rope. Jump rope for two minutes, rest for one minute. Begin again, this time jumping rope for one minute and resting for one minute. On the third and final round, jump rope for 30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds. Repeat five sets of this routine.

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              3. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

              Have a busy schedule? Fifteen minutes a few times a week is all you need. HIIT is an extremely popular workout because it can be done quickly, burn calories in a short amount of time, and can even be done in your home or during a lunch break at work. And the best part – You don’t need any equipment.

              With the use of your body weight, HIIT is typically 20 seconds of high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of active rest which means your heart rate remains elevated for the entire 15-minute workout.

              Check out this HIIT routine by Fitness Blender: 15 Minute HIIT Workout

              4. Spinning

              Spinning is a great way to get your heart up and keep it up in a 45-minute spin class. Our thighs and back are our largest muscles so they work the hardest.

              To get the most out of spinning, try to stay out of the saddle throughout an entire spin class. That way, you are forced to hold up your body weight which burns more calories and increases intensity.

              It’s also great for stabilizing and building strong core muscles, versus cycling outdoors, where most of the time you are sitting in the saddle and going for distance (steady-state cardio).

              5. Stairs

              One of my favorite places to get out of the gym for cardio and trim fat from my thighs and butt is the Santa Monica Stairs, near California’s most popular beach. Climbing 170 steps a few times builds the glutes, leans the thighs, strengthens the calves, and builds endurance.

              So, if the gym is not your scene and you love the outdoors, climbing stairs is a great alternative. Find a place with multiple steps, do six or seven rounds, and you’ve easily burned around 600 calories.

              6. Supersets

              A superset is two exercises that work opposing muscle groups, such as biceps and triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings, or different body parts such as the lower and upper body with little to no recovery between sets.

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              The superset may include two to five sets of 8 to 15 repetitions of each exercise or more.[1]

              So, if you love to workout with weight-training but aren’t really feeling cardio, supersets with no more than 30-second rest periods between exercises will keep your heart rate up. Not only will you build muscle, you will burn fat!

              For example, say you are doing a leg workout, five sets of exercises with high reps and low weight is all it takes to turn your weight-training into a cardio workout.

              Here’s one of my leg training workouts:

              i. Dumbbell Step-Ups on a secure bench or box (4×15, each leg)

              ii. Front Squat (4×15)

              iii. Wide Stance Dumbbell Goblet (4×15)

              iv. Leg Extension (4×15)

              v. Leg Curl (4×15)

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                Photo Credit: Shape Magazine

                vi. Front Squat


                  Photo Credit: Stack

                  vii. Wide Stance Dumbbell Goblet Squat

                  viii. Leg Extension

                  ix. Leg Curl

                    Photo Credit: T Nation

                    7. Compound Sets

                    Compound exercises are exercises that recruit muscles in the entire body, such as pull-ups, squats, bench press, etc. However, a compound set simply means to “compound” the number of different exercises into a series of sets with little or no recovery between, similar to supersets.

                      This may be accomplished by performing four to five exercises for the same muscle group, opposing muscle groups or total body exercises performed in succession such as full body extensions, followed by squat/cleans and complete the compound set of compound exercises with lunges with biceps curls.

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                      Compound sets put stress on the body and are great for expending additional calories while strength-training.

                      8. Machine Weight Training Circuit

                      Like compound exercises, a machine circuit workout targets the entire body, upper body, lower body, or core. The difference is, with the use of machines instead of free weights, muscle strength is increased by by making your muscles work against weight.[2] By limiting rest periods between exercises to 30 seconds, your metabolism will go into over-drive!

                      Machines also give you better control over the exercises, which decreases risk of injury.

                      Here’s a machine circuit training example: Muscle and Strength Machine Workout

                      The Bottom Line

                      The above-mentioned workouts should be completed within 30 minutes, unless you’re taking a class which is typically 45 to 60 minutes, giving you time to get on with the rest of your day.

                      By keeping your rest periods to a minimum between exercises, your heart rate will stay elevated and you will burn more calories, get lean, and have more energy.

                      Don’t be a gym rat, spending unnecessary time doing lengthy workouts that give you minimum results. For efficient weight loss, perform these workouts three times a week and watch the fat melt away while achieving your fitness goals.

                      More Resources About Weight Loss

                      Featured photo credit: Spencer Dahl via unsplash.com

                      Reference

                      [1] Mountain Life Fitness: Super sets, compound sets and giant sets
                      [2] Better Health Channel: Resistance training – health benefits

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