Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains


Negative thoughts are something every single one of us struggles with. Some have more some have less and that’s normal. However, you don’t have to think negative thoughts in the amount you do, you can always decrease their intensity and frequency. Scientists say hiking is just the hack for that.

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.

Comparing the participants before and after they did a 90 minute hike, the researchers discovered lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness.

However, those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination. This means that walking in Nature and detaching from technology is the key for reducing negative thoughts and sharpening your mind.

Another study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.

Participants in this study went backpacking through nature for about 4 days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever.

They were asked to perform tasks which required creative thinking and complex problem solving, and researchers found that performance on problem solving tasks improved by 50% for those who took part in this tech-free hiking excursion.

The researchers of this study noted that both technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions.

A different study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduces symptoms significantly.

Many of the mental illnesses humanity has today is due to the urbanized lifestyle we live away from Nature. So, taking a time to reconnect with Nature by hiking even 1 day per week can make significant changes in your mental health.

And if you lack exercise in your lifestyle, with hiking you are completing that hole in your life too. Hiking is not as demanding as running or lifting weights but it is as healthy. Even more, hiking can help you prevent memory loss.

Researchers from The University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume — the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70. Such exercise not only improves memory loss, but helps prevent it as well.

Hiking can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self esteem, and release endorphins. Many people take medication to solve each and every one of these issues, but the solution to these ills may be a lot simpler than you think!

So how can you start hiking?

Fortunately, it doesn’t require much to begin hiking. All you need is 90 minutes per week and… well, that’s it

Make sure you have a water bottle, and be sure to layer your clothing so you can take things on or off easily as you warm up and cool down. You may want to consider using trekking poles as well, which can increase your speed and take some of the pressure off your knees. Now, can you just do one thing for me?

Go take a hike!

Much Love <3

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Photo Credit: Mike Heller;