News flash: You should hike for health and happiness.
For the last few years, a growing body of research has strongly suggested myriad physical and mental health benefits linked to outdoor activity, in addition to the well-established benefits of leading an active lifestyle. Studies show heading for the hills helps:
Reduce anxiety and improve memory. Researchers in a Stanford University study found people who walked for 50 minutes in a natural area had lower levels of anxiety and performed better on some memory tasks than those who walked in urban locations with high traffic.
Lower the risk of mental illness. The same Stanford researchers also found that nature hikes led to less negative, self-defeating thoughts and less activity in an area of the brain associated with mental illness and depression.
Manage stress better. Participants in England’s Walking for Health program experienced fewer signs of depression and negative effects caused by life’s stressful events.
Increase energy. One study found workouts done in nature were associated with increased energy and decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression.
Clearly, getting your hike on provides a wealth of emotional well-being benefits. Don’t have a favorite hiking trail in your city? State parks and green spaces in urban areas make great places to find a trail. But you can also check these organizations for ideas on where to get started:
- American Trails, a national, nonprofit organization, has extensive state-by-state lists to help you find a trail in your neck of the woods. Canadian Trails are listed, too.
- Get your kids involved. Discover the Forest, a public service campaign designed to connect tweens and teens with nature, has a great search feature and many other useful resources to explore.
- Your local chapter of the Sierra Club organizes group hikes, peak scrambles, bird watching and other outings.