A favourite pastime of many outdoor enthusiasts, hiking is a fantastic way to get out of the house, experience nature and increase your fitness levels. However, although hiking is famously good at cleansing our minds and bodies, scientists have recently discovered that hiking actually changes our brain.
Hiking stimulates creative problem solving
Psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer from the university of Utah and University of Kansas have found that creativity can be greatly increased when people disconnect from technology and re-connect with nature. The scientists gathered a number of group participants who were asked to to take a 4 day nature hike in which they had to remain completely tech-free. Along the way, the groups were asked to perform certain problem solving tasks that forced the participants to think creatively. The researchers discovered that the hiking groups performed 50% better than participants who hadn't taken part in the tech-free hike.
The scientists concluded that modern-day technology and urban noise is extremely disruptive to our minds, demanding constant attention and preventing us from focusing. All of these issues press upon our cognitive functions, reducing our ability to perform and solve problems. Therefore, a good hike can not only soothe the soul, but increase our brain functions!
Hiking reduces negative thoughts
Recent research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has demonstrated that hiking significantly reduces negative and stressful thoughts. In our fast-paced world, many of us find ourselves consumed with negative energy and stressful minds which, at worst, can lead down a negative path of anxiety and depression. Yet, this new study has given us the knowledge to tackle this!
The simple study compared the reported difference in rumination between participants who hiked through a natural environment and those who hiked through an urban environment. Researcher found that participants who walked on average for 90 minutes per day in a natural setting had reduced rumination and that they had less neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex - an area of the brain associated with mental illness. On the other hand, participants that walked through an urban environment demonstrated no change in that area of the brain. The evidence reported by the researches suggests that urbanization correlates strongly with mental illness and that people should make an effort to spend time in a natural environment each week to increase mental well-being.
Hiking can reduce ADHD in children
With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) on the rise, it is more important than ever to find ways to tackle the disorder. A study run by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, have found that taking kids outside to perform “green outdoor activities” significantly reduces the symptoms of ADHD and helps the kids focus on tasks for much longer periods of time. The results will be a welcome relief to many parents who may wish to find a natural solution to the disorder.
Hiking boosts brainpower
Researchers from the University of British Columbia have found that hiking not only helps burn 400 – 700 calories per hour, but also increases hippocampal volume in woman over the age of 70. The hippocampal volume is the section of the brain associated with episodic and spatial memory and researchers have found that regular hiking has increased woman’s memory and also prevented memory loss. Not only this, but the researchers found that hiking reduces stress and anxiety, healing the soul from the inside. Whilst medication has been the usual go-to for memory loss problems, hiking can now be legitimately added to the list, and best of all, it’s free and easier to stick at according to results.
So, what should you be doing right now? That’s right - hiking! Start small, build up your strength, and you’ll soon be doing some of the most epic hikes and treks all over the world.
So go take a hike!