It's pretty clear that hiking can feed your mind, body and spirit but did you know it can actually change the way your brain works? 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.
There’s a pretty big difference between how our brain processes in an urban environment compared to a more natural setting. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli in an urban environment. Visually, physically and mentally. In contrast, when we spend time in nature, we get to choose how much or how little we’re thinking about. We can stop, breathe and restore depleted mental energy.
Being in nature, in this restorative state, also improves our focus, inspires creativity and reduces stress. A small study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that adults who lived in areas with the most amount of green space experiences lower levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. When people are isolated from nature and the opportunity to calm their minds they become more susceptible to depression, anxiety and negative thoughts.
The subgenual prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that processes negative thoughts, depression and anxiety. When we ruminate too much on things or are feeling depressed/anxious the blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex increases along with the increase in brain activity. In one study, scientists were able to measure a decrease in blood flow to this part of the brain after their subjects had gone walking in the park.
In addition to just being exposed to nature, the exercise you get from hiking or taking a walk increases endorphins. An increase in endorphins both reduces your perception of pain and triggers a positive feeling in your body, similar to morphine. Exercise also stimulates your memory and prevents brain aging. The benefits and the simplicity of taking a good hike make it hard to say no!
If the hardest part about getting motivated to go hiking is that you don’t know where to start, here are some resources to inspire you 🙂
- Best Hikes for Kids in the Columbia River Gorge
- Top 20 Oregon Hikes
- 10 Most Beautiful Spring Hikes in Oregon
- Best Easy Hikes in the Gorge
- Best Trails in Portland
- Stay hydrated
- Bring snacks that are high in protein for energy and potassium to prevent muscle cramps
- Wear comfortable shoes, or for an even more grounded experience, try earthing
- Embrace Leave No Trace ethics - using the open spaces is not a right, it's a privilege we need to keep available to others years from now