6 Scientifically-proven Benefits of Hiking: Good for the Brain & the Heart
Yes, we know that after a long hike, your legs will feel it, and your eyes will thank you after seeing that beautiful view. But if you don’t trust an avid hiker when they say, “bro, that hike was pretty wicked, you should try it too,” then trust the scientists! Here are some hiking benefits backed by science!
1) Boost memory by stimulating your hippocampus
By now, it’s no debate that exercising is good for your health, it oxygenates your blood and gets your heart pumping. But why is hiking better than robotic exercise (lifting weights, running on a treadmill, ellipticals)?
A Neuroscientist from UC Berkeley, Daniel Levitin’s recently stated in his book that exercise that requires navigation skills, such as hiking, helps to keep your mind and memory sharp. Continuously stimulating your hippocampus with challenging geonavigation will boost your memory. Maybe trying a hike during final exam week next time!
2) Hiking eases anxiety and combats Attention Overload.
When I say being in nature is a stress reliever, my friends roll these questions: “aren’t you stressed you’re going to get lost?” “Isn’t it stressful if you see a bear?” I never really know how to answer... because yes? but no.
A study observed the psychological and cognitive impacts on people in urban and natural environments and showed that spending time in natural green spaces, rather than in a city landscape or a road, helps to combat “attention overload” – the mental fatigue stemmed from living in a digitally distracted environment (cellphones and laptops).
3) Anti-bacterial chemicals from trees and plants = Magic
There are many fascinating facts about “nature’s healing powers,” but this one takes the idea of tree-hugging to the next level.
Trees actually emit phytochemicals with Phytoncides that decrease stress hormone levels, may contribute to increasing natural killer cell activity. In human words, not only do trees provide us fresh oxygen, but also release immune-boosting chemicals that we eventually inhale.
There’s this feeling you get when you peak a mountain after a grueling 15km climb up steep terrain, a few slips in the muddy creek, and maybe a few blisters. However, any immediate pain is masked by this unyielding sense of accomplishment, as you peer off into the scenic lookout… aka, Endorphins.
When you work out or hike, your body experiences pain, which causes a natural release of endorphins, automatically decreases the feeling of pain, (physical and mental) leaving you feeling euphoric. No wonder they are known as natural painkillers.
5) Alpha waves help resist symptoms of depression and boost your creativity
You are made up of billions of brain cells... yes, even your friend who forgot to wake up for their online class lecture for the 11th times in a row.
Your brain is the communication powerhouse of your body (no, not the mitochondria).
Surrounding yourself with beautiful scenery while you exercise will stimulate alpha waves, which are brain waves that support the electric flow in your brain. Scientists have proved that enhanced Alpha waves boost creativity by an average of 7.4%, and by improving brain patterns, which is also linked to treating low moods.
6) Hiking makes you happier, and more generous
I can honestly say, I have never met a grumpy hiker. Every time I encounter other people on the trails, the greeting usually consists of big genuine smiles, and a friendly “hello!” I thought it was just a Canadian thing at first, but science actually backs it up for us!
A series of experiments by researchers at UC Berkley concluded that the beauty of nature inspires positive emotions, such as a feeling to wonder, instigating a sense of being part of something bigger than oneself. This has been proven to lead to prosocial behaviors such as generosity!