Why you should take a hike in nature
It is easy to get bogged down in our heads that have become cluttered with what can feel like an overwhelming list of worries, responsibility and emails to respond to. The good news is that a healthy way to counteract these ruminations and bring us back to a state of clear headedness is to switch off your phone and go for a walk in nature.
More than 50% of people now live in urban areas. By 2050 this proportion will be 70%. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. A controlled experiment by PNAS investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world – a compelling case for committing to your weekly HikeFit session and booking an annual GirlsTrek!
A decade in the trekking business has given us a good insight into the benefits of walking in nature. Here’s what we know about the benefits:
- It cleanses you from technology
It is pretty difficult to be constantly checking your text messages, emails and social media whilst navigating a rocky path. Inevitably our trekkers find themselves disconnecting from technology and talking to their fellow walkers. Disconnecting from our virtual friends provides space for real analogue connections. Some of our trekkers have made lifelong friendships that started with one on one conversations on a GirlsTrek.
- You sleep better
At the end of a day’s trekking, you are tired physically rather than mentally. The lack of stimulation from phones, computers and televisions also puts your mind in a more relaxed state. This is the perfect recipe for a good night’s sleep.
- You are more mindful
Trekking often requires a person to be focussed on their activity, where the only distractions are majestic vistas and dramatic scenery. Ask any trekker and they’ll attest that spending time in the wilderness was one of the most relaxing times they’ve had. When you are in the moment it’s hard to be stressed.
- Your cardiovascular health improves
Regular trekking can increase cardiovascular strength as the heart has to pump harder to keep up with the oxygen demand while trekking. This increases blood flow to the muscles and the brain, improving the circulatory and respiratory system’s health. In addition, breathing in the fresh air and pure oxygen from the forest and trees keeps the respiratory system clean.
- You are better at problem solving
Researchers believe that all the extra mental stimulus and information bombardment we are faced with daily overwhelms our brains resulting in reductions in our cognitive resources, limiting our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Getting out into nature away from these stimuli restores our depleted attention circuits, freeing up more brain power for creativity – another reason to leave the gadgets at home! A 2012 study, showed that hikers on a four-day backpacking trip could solve significantly more puzzles requiring creativity when compared to a control group of people waiting to take the same hike—in fact, 47 percent more.
- Nature makes us feel more alive
Poets, writers and artists have been documenting their awe and wonder of nature for centuries. If you are constantly on a device or in front of a screen you are missing out on something that’s pretty spectacular – the very real and natural world!