What if you could experience less anxiety and less stress without a pill forcing your body to calm down? What if you could exercise your heart, lungs, muscles and bones without having to step foot in an LA Fitness? Seems too good to be true... but have you tried HIKING?
To some, hiking may seem like a pointless wandering through the woods, but for many folks the benefits are numerous and welcomed.
Hiking, or even a stroll through a nature setting, has been shown to decrease anxiety and lower risks of depression.
A Stanford study showed that “neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment.”
That means that annoying repetitive voice in your head telling you that you don’t have enough time in the day can be quieted, maybe even silenced!
In the technology-driven world we live in, quiet and empty time is almost non-existent. By taking a walk through a nearby park during lunch or finding some trails on the weekend, you may notice mood enhancement and more productivity when working!
Another mental health booster—try taking a friend with you sometime. Personal interactions, without large groups and distractions or cell phones in our faces can help build meaningful relationships that are valuable for mental health.
Do you train really hard during the week? Take a hike on your off day/rest day as a way to keep the blood flowing and body moving while also allowing it an exercise input that is not 100% intense the whole time. Your body will thank you!
Hiking also provides a unique challenge that we don’t see often- an uneven surface. Unless we are still playing some sports as adults, like soccer or lacrosse, we tend to exercise on and spend our days on flat, hard surfaces. Navigating uneven ground challenges our foot and ankle stability, single leg control, and balance, unlike conventional fitness routines.
You can search for hikes according to distance and challenge at websites or apps like “All Trails.” I suggest trying some longer and easier hikes as part of recovery from tough fitness routines or as an easy mental release. These trails usually have less obstacles so there is less focus demand for watching your step. Of course, they are not as demanding on the heart and muscles, but that may be desired for an off day! Depending on your fitness level, you can also try to push it to more challenging terrain with obstacles and steeper incline. This will get your heart pumping and lungs working hard!
As we get in our weekly routines of work, gym, dinner, repeat, I think we tend to forget to use our fitness. We are exercising to keep the heart and lungs healthy, manage a healthy body composition and release stress or worry but also to be able to continue being active throughout our lifetimes. So get out and find a nature-filled area to hike or a park to walk through! Your mental and physical health depend on it!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jackie, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.