The weather finally decided to cooperate, turning beautiful once again. Why not celebrate spring’s return by heading to your nearest natural area for a hike?
You’ll do more than work your quads and hamstrings to get your legs in shape for the summer shorts season. You’ll also nurture your spirit and emotional state. Here are four mental health benefits of hiking.
A little bit of magic happens as you transition from sleep to full wakefulness. This hypnopompic stage blurs the perceptions between your subconscious mind and the external world, making you more open to suggestions. The bottom line? Starting your day positively fixes your mindset for the rest of your day, making you more upbeat and productive.
Why not place your boots next to your bed and lace them up when you first awaken? Starting your day with a hike is the perfect way to set a relaxed-yet-energized tone for your day. You’ll also protect your health as things heat up over the summer. Experts advise limiting sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to minimize skin cancer risk.
You’ll also improve your mental health by getting your exercise fix in the morning before the hustle and bustle of your day interrupts your plans. Checking your step count on your phone gives your brain a dopamine boost as you revel in your accomplishment, feeling proud that you made a positive choice to nurture your body and mind.
Another mental health benefit of hiking is the sweet endorphin rush you enjoy from getting your body moving. These natural opioid-like chemicals help reduce chronic pain and produce a mild euphoric feeling. However, you won’t have to worry about withdrawal symptoms – other than longing for your next day out on the trail when your trek ends.
Exposure to sunlight and the natural world also improves your attention control. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology outlined a study where participants had to complete a repetitive task by pressing a button on a computer. Participants who looked at a flowering green roof halfway through the project made fewer errors than those without a natural view.
Other research shows that children growing up in urban environments lacking green space had a 55% higher rate of mental illness than those with abundant natural areas.
Your emotions are valid, but that doesn’t give you the right to express them in ways that hurt others. However, suppressing them harms you, creating stress that may manifest as a physical illness if pushed down too long.
Hiking creates a safe space for processing difficult emotions. If you head to a remote enough area, you don’t have to worry about other people intruding upon your reverie.
Find a private rock outcropping with a gorgeous vista to sit and feel. Simply be with your feelings, secure knowing you won’t perish from experiencing them. It’s OK to let the tears roll down your cheeks or even let out a primal roar of frustration. Rock yourself, wrap your arms around your legs, and let the full force of emotions roll over you like a wave then gently ebb like the tide.
You may feel a bit hollow afterward but cleansed after releasing that trapped trauma into the universe. Calm yourself by studying the delicate beauty of a bee nestling in a wildflower as your tears dry, then stand up like the brave warrior you are, ready to fill the empty ache inside with positive goodness.
Mindfulness is a boon for your mental health. It stops ruminations about an immutable past and can press pause on racing future fears. Beyond that, it builds awareness of your mental state and how it influences your behavior. You can then examine how your ideas and actions impact your circumstances, not with judgment but with curiosity. How can you do things differently in the future to influence a more positive outcome?
Make a portion of your hike into a mindfulness walk. Pay attention to your bodily sensations with each stride. How do your feet feel as they strike the earth? Engage your senses. What do you see, smell and even taste?
Summer is a great time to take a hike. Doing so won’t only tone your legs. It can soothe your psyche, too. Get out there and enjoy these four mental health benefits of hiking. Sometimes, the best therapy sessions don’t occur on a couch.
About the Author
Mia is a health and wellness writer and the Editor In Chief at Body + Mind. She specifically enjoys writing about women’s fitness, as well as mental health-related topics. When she’s not writing, Mia can usually be found reading poetry, taking a dance or cardio class, or hiking.