Ever notice a slight change in mood when you step outside into the warm sunshine? Do you find yourself feeling happier—a small burst of joy as the sun’s rays soak your skin? This isn’t uncommon. Nature has long been linked to improving not only mood, but also creativity and health. Combine nature with a long walk in the wilderness and you are onto something great. This is why hiking has been proven time and time again to not only make a person happier but also healthier.
Here are four proven ways hiking benefits not only our mind but also our body.
Hiking Improves Creativity
Let’s face it, there are plenty of times throughout the week where it literally hurts to think. Coming up with the next big idea to pitch at your team meeting seems out of reach and nearly impossible in your current somber state. So what should you turn to to get that creative boost? Look no further than your closest hiking trail.
Research shows that spending time in the great outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent. “This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving,” David Strayer, co-author of the study, told the Wilderness Society.
Aside from the fresh air, sweeping views, detachment from technology, and miles of changing scenery, just the act of walking in general can help make improve creativity. A study by Stanford researchers found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The study found that individuals produced twice as many creative responses walking than a person sitting down.
Hiking Sheds Weight
Have a few stubborn pounds to shed? Looking for a total body transformation? Both extremes can be accomplished simply by hitting the trails. Just one hour of hiking can burn close to 500 calories, depending on the difficulty of the trail, your weight, and the weight of your backpack. To put weight into perspective: a person who weighs 125 pounds will burn 180 calories on a 30-minute hike whereas someone who weighs 185 pounds will burn 266 calories during the same length of time. Add in a change in altitude and you have yet another helper in your weight loss journey.
Burning some serious calories is just one way hiking contributes to weight loss. Because hiking sometimes entails rock scrambling and uphill climbs with trekking poles, you get a full body workout. Even if you aren’t using trekking poles, your arms do a lot more swinging and pumping than your typical rock. Hiking also engages your core to keep your body stable on uphill and downhill stretches of trail, or when tackling rough terrain.
Hiking is also a great form of exercise for those looking for something a little more forgiving on their joints. Unlike running on concrete and asphalt, hiking on gravel and dirt trails are softer on the joints and leave you feeling less stiff afterwards.
Hiking Makes You Happier
Laughing, smiling, and feeling more positive in general aren’t just coincidences that happen to take place every time you hike. Research shows that hiking can actually be used as a form of therapy to help people with severe depression to feel less hopeless and suicidal. It may even help those who practice it regularly lead a more active lifestyle in general.
Even if you don’t suffer from depression, everyone can benefit from a dose of happiness, which hiking has been proven to contribute to. Being out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and personal obligations can allow people to connect with nature on a deeper level—a level that brings a sense of peace and calm.
In a study conducted by the University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England, 1,991 participants in England’s Walking for Health programs were evaluated. The researchers found that nature walks were tied to significantly less depression and helped distract participants from stressful life events and perceived stress.
“We observed behaviors of a large group, in which some chose to walk and some chose not to, instead of us telling them what to do,” said Sara Warber, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and senior author of the study. “After 13 weeks, those who walked at least once a week experienced positive emotions and less stress.”
Hiking Can Reduce the Risk of Disease
It may seem like a bold claim to say a simple activity like hiking can be so beneficial, it can cure diseases. However, such is the case and research proves it. Aside from improving cardiovascular health, other research shows that hiking could even help reduce the risk of cancer and improve the recovery process for cancer patients. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine researchers measured oxidative stress (thought to be a factor in the onset, progression, and recurrence of cancer) rates of women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer before and after a hike. Those that took long distance hiking trips improved the antioxidative capacity, which helps fight disease, in the blood of the cancer patients. Additionally, patients who exercised frequently saw a 40% to 50% reduction in overall fatigue, a primary complaint.