Hiking: Immersion in Nature Does Fascinating Things to the Brain
You don’t need to be an expert to know that connecting with nature is a great way to relax our stressed mind. You don’t need sophisticated scientific devices to prove it. All it takes is to go hiking in some greenery and you feel the renewal immediately. You just feel more energetic and lighter mentally. You detect it right away.
Walking through places where nature reigns fills us with oxygen. If we breathe better, and breathe cleaner air, our brain also works better. The body, and of course the brain, is nourished by the pristine oxygen you find in the woods.
Plus, exercise itself gets your circulation going and thereby strengthens all the organs in your body. It’s proven that physical activity makes positive changes in the brain. It increases the production of certain beneficial hormones and inhibits the secretion of the so-called “stress hormone”.
So fascinating is the subject that experts have done experiments to see how far the benefits of hiking go. In particular, some of them studied the brain changes that occur when someone goes hiking. The results have been surprising.
Hiking and changes in the brain
The National Academy of Sciences conducted a study on the brain changes that occur when a person hikes. First, they did a survey. They interviewed people who had recently immersed themselves in nature by hiking. Then they compared the results with those of other people who had taken walks in the city. The result was that the former said they felt calm, while in the second group there was a wider variety of responses.
Later, the scientists monitored the brain changes that had occurred among the hikers. They were able to verify that there was a decrease in blood flow in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of their brains after performing this activity.
This, translated into practical terms, has several meanings. Most importantly, the main change occurred in an area related to mood. In particular, that area of the cortex regulates moodiness and feelings of worry and sadness. Everything indicates that hiking decreases activation of that area, reducing any irritability or sadness our brains would otherwise want to “fight.”
In another study, a similar conclusion was reached. In this case, the brain changes that occurred in people who walked through a rural environment for four days were studied. These people were completely disconnected from technological devices. Afterwards they all took a test of intellectual abilities. The result was that all got 50% more points than those who did not hike, their creative potential being the area especially affected.
Other benefits of hiking
The brain changes above aren’t the only ones seen in hikers. In 2004, a study was done with people suffering from so-called “attention deficit disorder”. A group of them was asked to go hiking. After doing so it was found that the symptoms of the disorder decreased in intensity and frequency.
Something similar happened with a group of people suffering from dementia. Walks through green spaces and altitude, which takes more effort, had a remarkable affect on their memory. Everything seems to point to hiking having the power to improve our ability to concentrate and retain information. In short, all intellectual functions improve with a simple hike.
But that’s not all. Hiking also positively influences our emotional states. An article in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology indicated that just five minutes of walking in a natural environment has powerful effects on our emotions.
That short amount of time is all it takes to see changes in self-perception and self-esteem. Those who do this type of walking regularly have more confidence in themselves and more self-control.
The best part is that you hardly need anything to start hiking. All you need is appropriate clothing and water. In addition to triggering positive changes in your brain, it will also improve your overall health. And if go hiking with friends, even better. It’s an easy, quick way to significantly improve your quality of life.