The great outdoors. A place you can disconnect from the world and enjoy a bit of natural splendor. While most of us enjoy a good sunset or a beautiful lakeside view, sometimes we don’t make enough time to actually get out there and have an adventure among the forests and mountains. But we’ve got 5 reasons why you should pack a backpack, lace up your boots, and plan a hiking trip as soon as possible.
1. It Keeps You Healthy
It’s obvious, but hiking is a great way to get in some cardio and improve your overall health. But let’s talk about the fact that it helps elevate high-density lipoprotein levels and lower triglyceride levels, thus reducing the risk of things like heart disease and high blood pressure. Not only that, but the aerobic activity you encounter while out and active goes a long way in lowering your blood sugar levels and using stored glucose for energy, which can actually help prevent and control diabetes.
2. It Boosts Your Mood
We all get stressed out and anxious sometimes; life can be overwhelming. But if you want to beat the stress, nothing works quite like a walk in the woods.
“Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety,” says Gregory A. Miller, PhD, president of the American Hiking Society.
“Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that.”
In fact a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) actually scientifically proves that being outdoors and active in nature can make measurable changes in a person’s psychological state and mindset.
In the study, researchers randomly assigned 38 volunteers to take a 90-minute walk in a green space, or a loud, busy street with several lanes of traffic. Before heading out for their respective hikes, all participants were asked to complete a 12-question rumination (defined here as “repetitive thought that is focused on negative aspects of the self”) questionnaire. The questionnaire posed statements like “I often reflect on episodes in my life that I should no longer concern myself with” or “Sometimes it is hard for me to shut off thoughts about myself,” and particiapnts responded on a five-point scale from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree.” They then had a brain scan that measured how much blood was flowing through the subgenual prefontal cortex, which is a part of the brain that lights up when a person engages in rumination.
When the participants finished their hike, they were asked to complete the rumination questionnaire again and had another brain scan. The results were quite amazing.
Those who went on the nature walk showed reductions in not only the self-reported rumination, but in the amount of blood flow to the subgenual prefontal cortex. The participants who walked around the busy streets? No change at all.
“It was quite remarkable to us,” said Gregory Bratman, a PhD candidate in environmental science at Stanford University and the lead author of the study.
“Especially because we weren’t asking people ‘How do you feel right now?’ We were asking, ‘How do you tend to think?’ To change anything about how one describes how they think is quite compelling.”
3. It Helps Prevent Osteoporosis
It’s a no-brainer, but hiking is a weight-bearing exercise. What does that mean? It means you’re on your feet, and your bones and muscles are forced to work against gravity to keep you upright and moving. These types of activities are perfect for improving bone density, as your bones adapt to the impact of weight and the pull of muscles by building more cells and becoming stronger. It’s that simple – take a hike and keep your bones and joints healthy.
4. It Gets You Fit
If you’re strapping on a pack and climbing up a mountain, you’re going to end up fit by default. The functionality of the actual work you’re doing hits your whole body; your core is engaged to stabilize you and keep your balance, your legs are getting worked hard, and even your back and shoulders are getting a workout under the weight of your hiking pack. If you missed a day at the gym or it’s just too beautiful out to even bother going, pack up the backpack and spend a few hours getting in some cardio and resistance work.
5. It Puts Things In Perspective
Look, we can talk about health and fitness, and the scientific benefits all day long, but there is something existentially calming and soothing about surrounding yourself with something that is bigger and more wondrous than yourself. When you’re hiking through forests of pine, across mountain ranges, through rivers, and over ledges and cliffs that overlook monstrous valleys, you can’t help but start to reevaluate all your anxieties and let a lot of them go. It’s truly difficult to focus on the stress of a work deadline or your busy schedule the upcoming week when you can smell fresh pine trees and snow, hear a running river, and look up to sprawling mountains. If you want to decompress, disconnect, and hit the reset button on your brain and spirit, get out and tune in to nature.