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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 August 10, 2020

              Why Can’t I Lose Weight? 8 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Fit

              Why Can’t I Lose Weight? 8 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Fit

              It’s only natural for anyone in such a situation to wonder “Why can’t I lose weight? Why am I struggling to get fit?”

              You may even want to give up but don’t!

              I am here to provide you with help in figuring out why you are struggling with getting fit and will some realistic solutions.

              First, it is important to highlight that being skinny doesn’t automatically make someone healthy or fit. In-fact, that’s far from the truth as a small frame doesn’t guarantee either.

              However, it is a known fact that there are more health risks associated with obesity. With this in mind, losing 10 to 20 pounds could improve your health condition and overall fitness. For example, excess fat can cause inflammation and you risk causing damage to your joints and tissues. By losing and keeping weight off, you will lessen your chances of having illnesses such as arthritis, inflammation, and damaging your joints.

              Now that we have discussed the importance of weight loss, let’s move on to the interesting part – 8 possible reasons why you aren’t losing weight.

              1. Are You Starting Your Day with Breakfast?

              Here’s the deal about dieting. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and if you’re not eating the most important meal of the day, you are probably doing yourself a disservice.

              You may think skipping breakfast will help you shed those pounds. However, by noontime, you will find yourself famished, causing you to eat more during lunch. Studies have shown skipping breakfast is correlated with obesity.[1]

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              You want to have the first meal of the day within an hour of waking up. Eat something that’s fiber-rich and packed with protein to carry you until lunch. Grab a fruit, a vitamin-rich smoothie or a whole-wheat toast with eggs along with some Greek yogurt.

              2. Does Your Metabolism Affect Your fitness?

              How fast you burn calories will depend on your metabolism. If your metabolism is slow, then perhaps it is the reason you’re not losing the weight as quickly as you would like to.

              There are many factors affecting your metabolism, for example ageing, or how active your lifestyle is. If you’re not as active as you once were, you may experience a decline in your muscle mass. As a result, your metabolism slows down.

              If you want to speed up your metabolic rate, lift weights and stay away from low-calorie diets.

              3. Can Genetics Affect Your Fitness?

              Yes, it is possible you inherited the slow metabolism from your parents or even your grandparents. You can’t control this kind of inheritance.

              Unfortunately, with a slower metabolism, you will have to work harder than those with a fast metabolism to lose weight.

              4. Does Gender Reduce Your Chances of Losing Weight?

              Sounds silly, right? It’s not! This is a great question and the answer is complicated.

              According to a study, it seems it’s a lot easier for men to lose weight compared to women.[2] On the other hand, when women lose weight, they keep it off longer than men. The big differences are where and how men and women lose weight.

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              Men lose weight on their abdominal area first. Women, not so much. The stomach and hips are the hardest areas of the body for women to lose weight and to train. Therefore, if you’re a woman who wants to lose weight on her stomach, strap on binding corsets and waist trainers, they really do help.

              Remember, weight loss is not all corsets, the best way to lose weight alongside wearing shapewear and exercising is to create a calorie deficit.

              5. Are You Eating Before Going to Bed?

              Having a snack too close to bedtime is a no-no. If you’re eating before bed, it could be why you are struggling to drop those pounds and get fit. By eating before going to bed, you’re making it difficult to burn fat.

              A study conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the US, and the University of Murcia in Spain concluded that consuming food during the circadian evening plays an important role in body composition.[3]

              Try eating dinner about two or three hours before you lay down for the evening. Anything less will raise your blood sugar and insulin levels and your temperature.

              Snacking after dinner will also increase caloric intake depending on your snack of choice. If you must munch on something, choose your snacks wisely.

              6. Can Stress Affect Your Fitness?

              Some people get stressed out and they eat, but here’s the kicker. They reach for comfort foods and most of the time, it’s junk food like ice cream and chocolate cake.

              Instead, if you find yourself stress eating, make a conscious effort to reduce your stress levels by taking an alternative route and instead of stress eating, reduce stress by exercising or meditating.

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              Stress plays a vital role in our health and fitness, where necessary seek the appropriate medical help.

              7. What if You Have Trouble Sleeping?

              Sometimes when you worry or suffer from certain illnesses, you may have trouble falling or staying asleep. This can affect the metabolic rate as well and your energy levels.

              When you don’t have enough energy, it makes working out less desirable. This could be another reason why you can’t lose weight.

              Did you know people who don’t get enough rest eat about 300 or more calories a day versus individuals who get enough sleep?

              For example: After coming home from a hard day at work, no one wants to cook. It is easier to stop by the first fast-food restaurant and eat that 1200 calorie burger combo meal. Maybe even eating that 300 calorie chocolate bar for dessert.

              If you find yourself eating out often, could this be yet another reason why you struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Take away food generally contains a lot of hidden calories making it harder for your body to burn through the night.

              8. Could Your Thyroid Be Contributing to Why You Are Not Getting Fit?

              An under-active thyroid can influence your ability to lose weight. This condition is known as ‘hypothyroidism’, not to confuse with hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). Let me explain.

              An overactive thyroid affects your ability to gain weight, not lose it.

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              With hypothyroidism, your body retains water and salt buildup. Because of this, you gain pounds, making it difficult to lose them. This condition, along with other chemicals in the body, affects your energy levels and your metabolism.

              If you suspect this is the reason why you are struggling to get fit, talk to a medical professional about it. The doctor or nurse practitioner will know exactly what to do.

              Summing It Up

              There are many factors that affect whether you gain or lose weight. To give you the best chance of losing weight effectively, you should aim to identify and control these factors.

              There are a number of benefits to losing weight and getting fit. For example, by dropping a few pounds you will take pressure off your knees and other joints in your lower body. As well as increasing your overall health condition by reducing illnesses such as stress, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

              Finally, remember it’s not all about what you eat. Whilst diet is vital in the process of losing weight and getting fit, it is not the only factor to consider when losing weight. You need a well balanced fitness program consists of diet and exercise. Therefore, performing regular exercise such as lifting weights a few times a week and will help meet your goals quicker.

              Please use these useful tips to help you lose weight, get fit and achieve your dream body.

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              Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

              Reference

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