It’s probably not a stretch for most people to believe that a brisk walk or serene stroll in nature is good for the mind, body, and spirit. There also happens to be hard scientific data to show that hiking is genuinely good for mental health.
One fascinating study was recently conducted in Japan. Two groups were formed. The subjects of one group were instructed to take a walk in a forested region. The others were told to walk through a busy city environment. The subjects were monitored for heart rate variability, heart rate, and blood pressure levels on the walks.
Next, the participants were asked to submit more subjective data. They filled out forms that asked about their moods, stress levels, and other psychological factors during the walks. Those who took the forest trail had lower heart rates and higher rates of heart variability than the urban walkers. They also reported brighter moods, lower anxiety, and “feelings of hope and positivity.”
It is important to note that researchers pointed out that hiking in nature produced benefits beyond mere exercise itself. For example, a good run in a city can generate endorphins and make a jogger feel happier. However, hiking has less to do with physiological processes than it does with Mother Nature.
Scientists theorize that nature is our natural environment. City life is artificial. Sitting in a cubical inside a building without a window is even more artificial and unnatural. It seems clear that a cubical worker could realize significant benefits from getting out of his or her “artificially enclosed space” to reconnect with what the body, mind, and spirit long for on a deeper level.
Nature hikes have also been shown scientifically to reduce what is called “attention fatigue” while bolstering creativity. Attention fatigue is getting worn down by the constant bombardment of news and information we get from the media, our smartphones, social media, the web, and more.
Psychologist Dr. David Strayer of the University of Utah said our Information Age is not natural. People experience a daily pounding on their prefrontal cortex that leads to a reduction in cognitive resources. He said studies show that hiking in a beautiful natural setting is a way to give the prefrontal cortex a much-needed rest – and that leads to more creativity and happiness.