We’re all familiar with the physical health benefits of exercise. Being fit and active can prevent a host of physical illnesses like heart disease and obesity. It improves blood circulation and lung capacity, keeps your muscles strong, and promotes overall physical wellbeing.
But what about the psychological effects of exercising? When we’re active, our brains release a hormone called serotonin, which essentially makes us feel happy and good. So does being in nature.
So let me take you one step further. Hiking gets us the best of both! Getting your heart rate up while exploring the great outdoors combines the benefits of exercise and the positive effects of being in a beautiful natural setting.
A study done at Stanford University has shown that hiking or even just walking in nature reduces stress, calms anxiety, and can lead to a lower risk of depression. Intentionally taking in your surroundings also improves your sensory perception, and links to recent research done about the benefits of practicing mindfulness.
Make yourself aware of things you notice that are beautiful. Take the time to touch a flower and admire its intricate beauty, or to listen to a bird’s song. If the sun is bright and warm, think about how incredible it makes you feel and what a privilege it is to live on such a beautiful planet.
Another study done by the University of Michigan USA and Edge Hill University found something else that was interesting: It’s better to do it with friends. The findings stated that group walks in nature were associated with significantly less depression, better mental wellbeing, and can mitigate the effects of stressful life events.
Hiking with people also gives you the opportunity to get to know them better. Ask them questions and make an effort to listen. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with them when they ask you in return. You’ll be surprised at the wonders it does for your relationships!
So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or a little bit down, grab a friend and take a hike.
Remember, if you are concerned about your mental health, seek professional help. Hiking is by no means a cure for mental challenges but can help to combat the symptoms.
If you are struggling with your mental health, see these FREE resources in South Africa.