Those of us who love being outside in nature probably aren’t too surprised that hiking can have benefits for the brain, but now researchers are saying that they’ve found actual positive changes made by the brain after going on hikes.
Reducing negative thought patterns
How many of us have a bad habit of being incredibly hard on ourselves or always thinking negatively? It can be hard to control that inner dialogue that is constantly churning, constantly saying negative things. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered that being outside in nature helps reduce the amount of negative, obsessive thoughts that an individual has throughout the day.
The study focused on the rumination levels of people who spent time hiking in the great outdoors versus people hiking through urban environments. Subjects who spent 90 minutes walking in a natural environment said they had less feelings of rumination and showed reduced subgenual prefrontal cortex activity, which is the part of the brain closely tied to mental illness. Subjects who spent their time in the urban environment did not report decreases in rumination.
Creative problem solving and exercise
Exercise is often touted as one of the most, if not the most, important things for humans to do regularly. Why? Because it helps improve your health in almost every way. And hiking is a great way to get outside and pursue active goals while also helping to boost one’s mental health.
Research out of the University of British Columbia has discovered that exercise helps reduce and prevent memory loss in older folks and has similar benefits for people of all ages. Particularly, exercise is great for boosting one’s self esteem while reducing stress and anxiety.
Another great benefit was discovered by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David Strayer, who found a strong link between one’s capacity for creative problem solving and ditching technology while being out in nature. Subjects in their study were asked to backpack through a natural environment for at least 4 days without using any sort of technological device. Along their trip, they were tasked with problems that forced them to problem solve in creative and complex ways.
What they found? Creative problem solving performance rates went up by about 50 percent for everyone who participated in the free-hike adventure. This lead the researchers to note that technology and the ambiance of urban environments often keep an individual from focusing, which eventually leads to mental fatigue. Long hikes in nature without these disturbances help calm the mind, reduce fatigue and ultimately increase one’s ability to think and creatively problem solve.
So, are you ready to start hiking yet? Put your boots on, grab your pack and get on the trail! You won't regret it.