There’s a reason so many writers waxed poetic about the beauty of the great outdoors, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Sylvia Plath to John Keates. Nature can have a profound impact on the human experience.
That’s never more evident than when you hit the trails and go on a hike. Not only is hiking a great way to notch some physical activity, it’s quite possibly one of the best forms of fitness when it comes to your mind. There’s just something about the combination of exercise and fresh air that transforms your outlook.
Science is constantly finding brain-boosting benefits to outdoor trekking, from a sharper recall to improved mood. Below are just a few ways hiking can help your mental state:
Hiking might help reduce stress.
Attention all city dwellers: Research shows that living in more populated places can increase the risk for anxiety and depression. However, spending time in nature can be an antidote to those negative effects.
A 2015 study found that walking near greenery, as opposed to walking near cars or traffic, helped curb stressful thoughts. Those who took a 90-minute stroll in nature reported that they didn’t brood or ruminate as much as they did before their walk. Brain scans also showed those who walked in nature had less blood flow in certain areas of their brain, suggesting their mind was essentially quieter thanks to their walk, the New York Times reported.
It can make your memory sharper.
Exercise can physically change the brain in a positive way, improving memory recall and sharpening thinking skills, according to Harvard Health. And you don’t need to go overboard with your workout in order to reap some of the benefits: Effective options include going for a walk or, yes, a hike.
It can boost your happiness.
Apologies to the gym: A recent study published in the journal PLOS One found that long walks in the great outdoors sparked more exercise enjoyment than using a treadmill. The researchers, who sent volunteers on a three-hour hike outside, also found it increased participants’ moods better than a corresponding walk on a treadmill.
Hiking can be an additional therapy tool.
A 2012 study found that mountain hiking, when done in conjunction with seeing a mental health professional, can help with mental health disorder symptoms. Patients at a high risk for suicide reported fewer feelings of hopelessness and suicidal ideation after hitting the trails.
It might make you more creative.
In a creative rut? A small 2012 study found that participants who embarked on a hike before taking a creativity assessment scored better than peers who took the test without having been on a hike.
The researchers asked people in the study to ditch their devices for a six-day hiking trip. Half of the study volunteers were given a Remote Associates Test, a creativity quiz that asks people to identify word associations, before going out. The other half of the group was given the quiz four days into the trek. Those who took the test after engaging in the activity scored roughly 50 percent better on the quiz.
How’s all of that for a brain boost?