12 July 2016 by Anna Staford
Over 50% of people now live in urban areas and experts predict this will reach 70% by 2050. It’s no secret that urbanisation is associated with stress and scientists advise that visiting natural areas regularly is a vital factor for maintaining good mental health. It sounds obvious that a good long hike in the mountains, or through countryside will clear your thoughts, reduces stress and improve fitness and mood - but recent scientific studies suggest that hiking can change your brain for the better.
Hiking reduces unnecessary reflexion and negative thoughts significantly. How many times have you caught yourself going over and over the same negative view or memory instead of enjoying the moment? Pilling up these thoughts without getting rid of them can lead to stress and depression, however, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science published a recent study demonstrating that spending time in nature decreases negative, obsessive thoughts. Scientists asked the participants to have a 90 minute walk either in an urban or natural environment. The first group reported no change in their thought patterns while those who walked in natural surroundings showed signs of reduced neural activity in the brain area relating to mental illness and lower levels of rumination. So taking a walk in nature contributes to our physical, mental and psychological well-being.
In their study psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative thinking and problem solving abilities dramatically suffer from constant urban noise and use of technologies. The study participants were asked to backpack in a natural environment for 4 days with no use of gadgets. Then they were asked to solve various tasks and complex problems requiring a creative approach. Results showed a shocking 50% boost in their skills. The more time you spend in tech-free fresh air, the more you notice that your thought flow calms down, letting you truly see your surroundings, feel better, think clearer and get back home rested any happier.
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More and more parents and teachers face Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, when young people find it difficult to focus without getting easily distracted. Parents are more frequently turning to medication to help control their children’s behaviour, but doctors and scientists suggest that natural solutions can work effectively and less invasively. Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, conducted a study that proved outdoor activities can reduce ADHD symptoms.
Fortunately, hiking is one of the easiest and affordable outdoor activities, so start small and then choose what you enjoy most. This could be a simple long walk in your home area, or further afield in the surrounding countryside, leading to a dedicated hiking or walking holiday with friends or family.
Slowly you will notice the positive changes walking in the great outdoors will bring to body and mind. Plan and prepare well for any trip and research your destination. Obtain appropriate insurance to cover you for any mishaps you may have. This needn’t be expensive, backpacker travel insurance will cover you for up to 18 months if you are on a budget. Stay healthy and enjoy hiking!
Read also: Ecotourism: 6 Places to Enjoy the Nature