Science explains why hiking is amazing for our brains

Science explains why hiking is amazing for our brains

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It’s no secret that a good hike through the forest or up a mountain is an excellent way to cleanse your mind and body. But it’s only recently that scientists have started to discover the amazing effects hiking can have on our brains.

One such effect is that of reducing rumination (aka over-thinking), or even stopping it altogether. Most of us find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts very often, as we replay situations over and over in our minds, over-analyze them and finally, assign them meanings that are not necessarily true. All this does is deprive us of the enjoyment of the moment at best and lead us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst.

But hiking can help with that, scientists claim. A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts significantly. The team of researches that conducted this study compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment.

They found that those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and a reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

The team concluded that increased urbanization can be correlated with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Another amazing effect is related to the enhancement of our problem-solving abilities. In this sense, a study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David Strayer found that creative problem solving can be significantly improved by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. The participants in this study went sent backpacking through nature for 4 days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever.

They were asked to perform tasks involving creative thinking and complex problem solving, and researchers found that performance on problem solving tasks improved by 50% for those who took part in this tech-free hiking excursion.

The team thus concluded that both technology and urban noise are disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be harmful to our cognitive functions. A good hike can reduce mental fatigue, soothe the mind, and boost creative thinking.

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