Intuitively, we all know that time spent in nature can offer a sense of calm and relaxation, but recent studies have revealed just how beneficial a simple hike can be for the brain.
Not only can a hike help to cleanse the body, mind, and soul, but it also offers significant benefits for those suffering from depression, anxiety, and ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
How much impact can nature really have?
More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, with a projected 70% by 2050. While Doctors are still finding out exactly why, urbanization has been found to have a link towards progressive mental illness. A proactive and controlled experiment was conducted on multiple participants to observe whether nature immersion could have a beneficial effect on mental health, and the conclusions were published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.
Participants who spent up to 90-minutes in nature were found to have lower levels of rumination, as well as showing less neural activity in the areas of the brain usually associated with mental illness. Those who were tasked to walk through urbanized areas showed no such effects, which proved that time spent in nature is an essential activity for mental health. Spending some quality time in nature, preferably while being active, can offer the brain incredible health benefits, and is suitable for the whole family.
Does longer immersion have a greater effect?
Psychologists Dr. Ruth Ann Atchley and Dr. David L. Strayer conducted a study in 2012, where participants were tasked to spend 4 days in nature without access to technology.
It was found was that these participants showed a 50% increase in the ability to solve complex problems as well as a significant increase in creative thinking, confirming that noisy and polluted urban environments have a negative effect on the brain.
A long, rhythmic hike can help to reduce mental fatigue and soothe the mind, resulting in a creatively charged and refreshed brain for improved functioning.
Does it also boost brainpower?
Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that women over the age of 70 were able to increase spatial and episodic memory through light aerobic exercise. Their study confirmed how good aerobic exercise can be for the brain, demonstrating that it helps to release endorphins, boost mental power, and reduce anxiety.
This means that aerobic exercise combined with natural environments can prove to be the most powerful antidote against a host of mental imbalances, and the best part is, it’s fit for the whole family to enjoy!
How does it help ADHD?
ADHD is on the rise, with over 11% of children in the United States already diagnosed. The symptoms include excessive hyperactivity, lack of impulse control, and difficulty staying focused to make rational decisions, and those suffering from it are often challenging to manage.
While multiple medications have entered the market to help to combat this disorder, Doctors have discovered that the most effective solution is to spend time in “green environments”.
In 2004 a study was conducted by Dr. Frances E. Kuo and Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor to prove that natural environments can reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Their findings proved that activities carried out in natural green environments resulted in a significant reduction in ADHD symptoms, and was found to be consistent across age, gender, class, communities, geographic locations and severity of diagnoses.
These results suggest that activity in nature can benefit anyone, young or old, who is struggling with their focus or levels of impulsivity.
How can I start?
Hiking is one of the most convenient forms of activity available, especially with the rise of technology that lends a helping hand to map out the parks and trails near you.
It’s extremely affordable and suitable for the entire family (even the dog!), making it one of the greatest health investments for everyone. All you need is some good hiking shoes, a hat, sufficient hydration, and a few layers of clothing to take off or add on when the temperature changes.
If you want to start small and simply visit the park more regularly, this will benefit your health as well: the importance is to schedule time away from technology and urban environments to re-connect with nature.