With the temperature dropping and the leaves changing, it’s time to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather and do some exploring! What better way to see the gorgeous fall colours and get some exercise than a hike?
Not only is hiking an inexpensive, convenient, and accessible way to explore nature, but it also offers many health benefits, both physically and mentally. Studies show that just being exposed to nature, without even engaging in any other activities, confers health benefits almost immediately. These benefits are only improved further by combining nature and physical activity; hiking is an especially great way to get your heart rate up and your body moving. Because hiking trips usually have other priorities than just exercise — sightseeing, bird watching, revelling in nature — people usually end up spending more time hiking than they would on another typical workout. Additionally, vigorous exercise, such as a hike with a steep incline or difficult terrain, is actually found to decrease stress levels!
In addition to the physical benefits, hiking is suggested to have multiple mental and psychological benefits as well. Spending time in nature has been suggested to improve your memory and attention span. Constantly adjusting behaviours and plans while hiking can help keep your mind and critical thinking skills sharp; remembering trail directions, navigating unpredictable terrain, adapting to unexpected circumstances and weather - hiking requires it all!
A 2015 study suggested that spending time in nature can actually decrease ruminating, anxious thoughts. This study randomly assigned participants to embark on a 90-minute walk in a natural environment (i.e. hiking trail) and assessed their levels of rumination both before, and after the walk. The results revealed that rumination decreased after a 90-minute walk, evidenced by changed activity in the part of the brain that is active during sadness and depression! Experiencing nature, whether on a walk or a hike, can be an easy and simple way to improve your mood and decrease anxiety.
Finally, in addition to physical and mental benefits, hiking has social benefits, too. By spending time outdoors with family and friends, especially in challenging circumstances like a hike, you can improve your social connections and work towards bonding with your social circle. Creating memories and experiences with your friends and loved ones is a great way to support positive mental health, and when combined with the benefits of hiking, it’s a home run!
So, the next time you’re feeling a bit anxious, or like you need to get up and move, try going on a hike and exploring your local nature areas — you won’t be disappointed!