Jay Connelly is a nature blogger for Wilderness Scotland and loves cliff climbing, walking holidays and generally staying active in the great outdoors.
With intense workloads and the day-to-day stresses that come with modern life, many of us often struggle to step back and focus on our mental health. A positive mental wellbeing is fundamental for an individual’s overall health, which is why caring for yourself and taking some time out from everyday life is so important.
Whether it’s strenuous or low-impact, exercise can naturally relieve stress and improve mental wellbeing — so whatever your workout may be, you’ll be left looking and feeling good. Physical activity can have countless positive effects on your health but often, it’s finding the motivation to get your heart rate pumping that holds us back. Low-impact activities such as walking can lead to the same cognitive benefits as a grueling gym session and that’s why today, we’re exploring five reasons why you should consider taking a hike in the great outdoors.
The Benefits of Hiking
1. Releasing “Feel-Good” Chemicals in the Brain
Exercise releases endorphins — our natural pain and stress fighters — meaning getting physical will relieve stress and leave you feeling good. Stress and pain are the most common reasons for the production of endorphins but prolonged physical activity will also stimulate this natural feeling of euphoria (1). High-intensity sports can seem both unappealing and inaccessible to some, whereas walking is a free and low-impact activity that will still trigger the secretion of endorphins. So whether it’s hiking in the hills or walking around your local park, getting out and about on foot is a low-intensity activity that’s appropriate for all age-groups.
2. Boosting Brain Power
From reducing the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease to shifting those pounds by boosting your metabolism, the benefits of regular exercise can often seem limitless. With recent studies showing that getting physically active can improve both memory and thinking skills, there’s never been a better reason to head outdoors (2). Aerobic exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus — the section of the brain that’s associated with learning and verbal memory — which means getting your heart pumping will not only improve your physical fitness but also leave you thinking more effectively too.
3. Improving Sleep Quality
Whether it’s the stress of work or the noise of the city that’s disrupting your sleeping pattern, missing out on those much-needed hours of rest can have a detrimental effect on your mental wellbeing. While physical exercise can relieve symptoms of serious mental illnesses, regularly walking outdoors can also improve the quality of sleep that you’re getting each night (3). Often causing insomnia, stress and anxiety can interfere with your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Taking some time out for a stress-busting hike means you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.
4. Reducing Anxiety
From homeopathy to home remedies, nature has long been associated with having healing powers. With Stanford researchers finding quantifiable evidence to suggest walking in nature can reduce the risk of depression, relying on the chemicals in anti-depressants is no longer the only option (4). Experts found that escaping from urban settings and spending just 90 minutes walking in an unspoilt natural environment led to a decrease of activity in the cognitive region that’s associated with the risk of depression.
5. Improving Your Mood and Alleviating Depression
As well as releasing feel-good brain chemicals that’ll leave you feeling motivated, regular exercise also alleviates depression by reducing the amount of chemicals in your body. Physical exercise increases your core temperature too and that can have a calming effect on your body (5). So whether you opt for a high-intensity workout or take a hike in the picturesque countryside, staying physically active has countless scientific and psychological benefits that will leave you in the best of spirits.
Looking after your mental health is just as important as maintaining your physical health. With outdoor hikes proven to improve overall mental wellbeing, it’s crucial that we’re incorporating low-intensity workouts into our weekly routines and spending more time in the great outdoors.
Can’t get outside to hike everyday? Make sure you’re getting your daily requirement of Vitamin D3.
- “Endorphins: Natural Pain and Stress Fighters.” Melissa Conrad Stoppler. 2014.
- “Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills” Heidi Godman. 2014.
- “The benefits of regular walking for health, well‐being and the environment.” C3 Collaborating for Health. 2012.
- “Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature.” Rob Jordan. 2015.
- “Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms” Mayo Clinic Staff. 2014.
- http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495. 2014.