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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 October 22, 2020

              The Truth of Rapid Weight Loss: How to Actually Shed Pounds

              The Truth of Rapid Weight Loss: How to Actually Shed Pounds

              “If I drink this supplement, will I lose 40 pounds in two weeks?”

               Another consultation with a new member in the fitness center that I manage, and yet another person that fell prey to the marketing-trap of a supplement company that promised immediate results and rapid weight loss.

              Rapid weight loss is enticing. It speaks to our human nature. It’s unfortunately also a false fantasy of ours.

              The truth is that while you might be able to lose weight in a very short time, it’s practically impossible to keep it off. Here’s why and how you can actually shed pounds sustainably and continuously.

              The Key to Patience

              A mentor of mine once told me bluntly: You can have it all young man. You can be a great salesman and entrepreneur. You can run a successful business. As long as you just refuse to give up.

              Is it that simple? It is.

              I came into a management position at a young age not because I’m the brightest but because I outlasted my colleagues.

              There are a lot of similarities between business and the results in the gym. They just produce different rewards.

              If something isn’t working simply because you don’t have the patience to push through, develop this crucial piece of the puzzle before moving on.

              You can learn more about just how long it takes to build muscle and lose fat here.

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              The Art of Weight Loss

              Weight loss is simple, but not easy.

              It’s not easy because it goes against our nature. We all have to know that our ancestors dealt with much rougher situations than we did. Over millions of years our genome has evolved to store energy in order to prepare for rainy days.

              Only in the recent decades have we gone from scarcity to absolute abundance. The supermarket just around my corner contains ripe fruits from all over the world. Packaged, conserved foods that can be stored in our shelf for years to come.

              While our recently-evolved, self-conscious forebrain is demanding us to keep losing 10 more pounds, our genome is desperately trying to hold on to all of those bits of energy storage, making rapid weight loss nearly impossible.

              Fat cells used to be our friends, and now they’re enemies. (Find out more about the reason why here.) In order to beat them and lose weight, we have to learn to go against nature and trick our genome.

              How to Trick Your Genome

              What if I told you that there is a way to soothe your genome and your brain at the same time? How can we manipulate both of these entities to reach our goals?

              Here’s everything that you need to know about substantial and sustainable weight loss in one sentence: Calories and satiety are not linked.

              We can eat a huge McDonalds meal with thousands of calories but still feel hungry after one hour. We can scoop out some ice cream late at night, and the only time we feel satiated is after we’ve gained 2 more pounds.

              On the other hand, we can eat 1-2 cups of broccoli or spinach and often feel full. What matters is the caloric density and the seven crucial factors influencing satiety.

              7 Parts of Satiety

              Hunger and satiety are sensations. Satiety is the absence of hunger. If we feel satiated, we feel full. If we feel full, we’re more likely to stick to a diet.

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              If calories are not linked to satiety, which factors are? Lucky for us, a study on satiety gave us some answers. The researchers concluded:[1]

              Servings of different foods vary greatly in their satiating capacity.[2]

              Optimize satiety for rapid weight loss

                And the effect of a food on one’s satiety is important, as the satiety heavily influences our future eating behavior. These are the components that played a role.

                Fiber

                Fiber fills up your stomach and speeds up digestion through your small intestine. This means that less macronutrients will get absorbed. Therefore, also less calories.

                Foods containing fiber-entrapped natural sugars produced the highest satiety scores in the whole study. If you want to feel full, start taking in more fruits and vegetables.

                Sensory Information

                Studies have shown that our sensory information can play a huge part in our satiety and rapid weight loss. We’re primed to seek a variety of foods, but if we routinize the habit of eating the same foods during our eating breaks, satiety might come earlier.[3]

                Water

                If a food contains more water, it will naturally also be less calorie dense. Not only that, but the increased water content also fills up our stomach more, boosting feelings of satiety.

                Protein and Carbohydrates

                Protein and (good) carbohydrates seem to have great satiating effects. Both of these macronutrients can, therefore, help you lose fat more easily. However, stay away from fatty products, as fat was inversely correlated with satiety. Fat also contains nearly double the calories.

                Plate Size

                The bigger the plate size, the more calories you will consume, which will slow you down on the road to rapid weight loss.[4] This may seem obvious, but many people eat far more than they should simply because they fill up a plate that’s bigger than a normal portion size.

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                Amount of Fat Cells

                Our fat cells, scientifically called adipocytes, release a hormone called leptin. Leptin levels are significantly higher in obese individuals. When we start dieting, our leptin level goes down fast—too fast. It’s an indication to our brain that we’re starving.

                We suddenly feel hunger, have reduced motivation, and burn less calories at rest. This means that if we’re overweight, our body wants to keep us like that.[5]

                Serotonin

                Do you ever wonder why chocolate is so addictive? This tasty, dark food is releasing serotonin in our bodies to the same extent as cigarettes. This explains why stress often causes weight gain.

                They crave that good-feeling neurotransmitter that gets released in our brains. This means that the less stress we have and the better we feel, the more satiety we will experience.[6]

                The Next Steps

                “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln

                It’s time that we start thinking about long-term weight results when it comes to weight reduction. We have to realize that if we use the dieting approach to rapid weight loss, we’re losing both muscle and fat mass.

                This means that every time we start a diet, it gets harder, not easier.

                It’s therefore absolutely crucial that we start with the end in mind. We have to start a diet that is sustainable for months to come. There are three ways to do that:

                1. Focus on Satiety

                While a calorie deficit is important, we also have to focus on staying full. If our brain thinks we’re starving, our diet is doomed to fail.

                If we fight against our genome, we enter a war we can not win. If we fight against our genome, we enter a war we can not win. Eat high protein foods while avoiding processed foods. This will get you started.

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                2. Add Weightlifting and Cardiovascular Training to Your Schedule

                Weightlifting and cardio can improve the ratio of lost fat and muscle mass and keep us healthy. Increased muscle mass will also make it easier to keep off the weight, as it increases our caloric need.

                You can learn more about why cardio is so good for you in this article.

                3. Add Incremental Changes

                A diet shouldn’t necessarily be a diet. It should be a long-term dietary change for the better. We lay the groundwork to our dieting success by beginning with the end in mind.

                Try making one small change to your diet each week to avoid shocking your body and mind. As you work incrementally, you’ll train your body to adjust slowly and sustainably.

                Conclusion

                Rapid weight loss is a false fantasy. There’s no supplement that will help you lose 40 pounds in 2 weeks.

                It’s practically impossible to keep the weight off long-term if you do this because the dietary switch was never sustainable in the first place.

                Instead of focusing on short-term results, we should pay special attention to long-term habit change to get us to a healthy weight and more balanced levels of body fat.

                Weight loss is a trojan horse. We might expect superficial results like an improved reflection in the mirror, but if we begin with the end in mind and focus on long-term habit change, it affects multiple components of our existence and can lead to a better quality of life overall.

                More Weight Loss Tips

                Featured photo credit: Meghan Holmes via unsplash.com

                Reference

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