University of British Columbia researchers found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume in women over the age of 70. That’s the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory. Who doesn’t want a better memory? Hiking will do that and so much more. It also reduces stress and anxiety, boosts self-esteem, and releases endorphins.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports on a study about how rumination (repetitive negative thought about self) is affected by urban setting versus a 90 minute walk in the woodsy park. Not surprisingly, they found that spending time in nature significantly decreases obsessive, negative thoughts. It also reduces neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through an urban setting, however, didn’t receive these benefits. In fact, the researchers discovered that increased urbanization correlates to increased mental illnesses.
When you go for your hike, leave your phone off! Here’s why…Psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative problem-solving skills are greatly improved by ditching technology and going for a hike. After a 4 day backpacking tip, (without any tech tools turned on), the participants’ creative thinking and problem-solving skills improved 50%. It also improves your relationships since you’ll have more of an opportunity to talk. For your safety, I would suggest having the phone with you, but only turn it on if you experience problems and need help.
Hiking also helps children with ADHD. Frances E Kup, Ph.D. and Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D. found that children with ADHD improved their ability to pay attention and control their impulsive behavior when they engaged in nature activities.
We live in such a beautiful area. I hope I’ve motivated you to find a few trails and recharge. However, it’s important to realize if you or your loved one is experiencing serious mental health issues such as persistent anxiety or depression, it’s important to consult a mental health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.