It’s Official: Hiking Changes Our Brains For The Better
Next time you’re planning a weekend away, or considering what to do with a spare afternoon or evening, be sure to consider how great hiking is for just about everything.
Less negative thoughts
Last year, two Stanford studies found that walking a physical path (specifically away from traffic) can help eliminate the obsessive and negative thoughts that come with brooding behaviour. As part of the studies, the walkers had their brains scanned and it was found that those who walked away from traffic into nature showed less blood flowing into the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with negative thinking. Conversely, the walkers who remained in car-dense areas, didn’t show these results.Le
Aside from this incredible finding, it’s also pertinent to remember that any form of exercise is likely to diminish the amount of the anxiety causing hormone cortisol, that’ll be floating through your body.
More mobiles, more problems
The question of whether smart phones are living up to their namesake has been a hot topic of conversation for years. Recently, researchers sent two groups out into the wilderness to test their survival skills, their cognitive reasoning, and their navigational skills. The first group were afforded the luxury of carrying their phone with them while hiking, meaning they could use maps, look up information and connect with the outside world. The second group went out without phones.
Interestingly, despite the first group having more resources that should have helped them achieve their goals, the study found that it was so distracting that it lowered their cognitive function. Researchers believe this is due to a lack of awareness that can occur when people rely on their phone too heavily. If you’re going hiking it is worth taking a phone with you in case of emergencies, but maybe lay off Instagram, if you can.
There have been countless studies looking into the beneficial nature of light exercise. In recent years though, scientists are discovering the combative effect of combining walking and the outdoors. A 2010 study found that going for a stroll three times a week can actually make your brain grow. Specifically, the hippocampus: the part of your brain that controls memory, emotion and your nervous system.
The Natural Resources Institute Finland recommends a minimum dose of five hours of nature a month, to help improve mental health and memory. We have absolutely no problem with that.
Esther is a freelance writer, editor, publicist, content maker and dog patter. She has written for Interview Magazine, New York Press, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and local titles Broadsheet, Beat and Tone Deaf. Please tag her in photos of dogs @esthersaurus.