Hiking for Body, Mind & Spirit
~ Top 10 Hiking Benefits for Your Life ~
WHAT IF you could be instantly transported to the picture above and be in the place of that man? Wherever you are right now, I'm betting there is a decent chance you would say "Yes please!". Maybe you are one of the lucky ones, lying in a beach cabana or a luxury spa right now, but otherwise I'd say 90% of us would jump at the chance to be there instantly.
Can't you just hear the water, feel the breeze, smell the pines?
Yes, there is actual science here. This is not just me, someone who loves to get out on the trails, spouting off in favor of it. Research proves it. And somehow, on a subconscious, primal, and instinctive level, I think we all know it's true.
The more the world tries to make things simpler, somehow they always get more complicated. We constantly make trade-offs. One thing gets easier, we become dependent on it, and then when it doesn't work, our stress level goes through the roof.
We live in a world of inventions that have unintended and unforeseen consequences. We live in a world that always wants more, faster, better. The demands that are put on us as mere mortal, imperfect creatures can be overwhelming day in and day out. Technology is wonderful, but it will never change our need for the great outdoors.
It's no wonder the human race is plagued by the rat race. Read on, my friend.
Can Hiking Make You Happier?
Do you or your loved ones have any of these issues? ADHD, anxiety, unwanted
weight gain, PTSD, depression, insomnia? Or are you just, plain out of shape? Are you stressed out or need to make a hard decision? Need inspiration? Not getting enough quality time with someone?
Cabins with the Best Mountain Views
Why Hiking Is My Therapy
The Top 10 Ways Hiking is Good for You, Mind, Body & Spirit
*Always check with your doctor and use common sense before starting a new exercise routine.
1.) Relieves stress and anxiety
Hiking is an excellent way to relieve anxiety and is way cheaper than therapy. Nature therapy has been used for veterans of war and others with PTSD. Hiking and nature promote relaxation and perspective. When people are diagnosed with diseases like cancer, they can be overcome with stress, anxiety and uncertainty. Nature walks can be a big help in creating peace and a sense of control over their bodies and minds. Those with cancer and other threatening diseases have been forced into situations where they have no control. Getting this back through the escape of hikes in the back country can be life changing. People prone to anxiety and panic attacks have shown great improvements in this regard as well. Being in control of your own situation is key to making improvements. Having a place to go to get away from it all it a big advantage in overcoming these problems and taking back your life.
2.) Does wonders for mental health and ADHD
Real changes in the brain were shown in a 2015 study, by Gregory Bratman. Time in nature was found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory. Quality time with family and friends or time for yourself can boost self esteem and happiness. Hiking can build bonds between friends, spouses, and families. It is a very low-key, no pressure way to hang out together without huge expectations or too many rules. Walking in silence is acceptable, or walk and talk is just as well. It's just about enjoying each other's company. One therapist that uses this method is Mark Lees, M.A., CAS, who has a Master's Degree in Psychology in Oceanside, California. He uses Hiker Therapy as tool in his profession. He uses time hiking to guide his many clients back onto the road to recovery. Green space time studies have repeatedly shown real results in help with focus and ADD and ADHD in kids and adults. Kids who were exposed to outdoor green space time had improved behavior, self control and focus.
3.) Relieves symptoms of depression and insomnia
Natural light is nature's pick me up, as well as fresh air. Natural light has been proven to increase serotonin in studies of some people who suffer from seasonal related depression bouts. These things, along with "green space time", can go a long way in lifting a person's mood. Studies show how hiking or walking in a natural green space, as opposed to a busy urban area, reduced activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of your brain. To keep it simple - that means, the front of the brain - behind your forehead - where depression, anxiety and panic attacks live. Studies also show hiking in nature boosts creativity. Exercise has been proven in studies to decrease insomnia, over time, for some people. Personally, I can say that I definitely seem to sleep much better on days when i have been exercising.
4.) Weight loss multiplier - burns more calories than just walking
Walking is great! But hiking is even better.
It is estimated that a 160-lb person can burn about 430 calories an hour of hiking vs 180 calories in an hour of walking. A 200-lb person burns about 550 calories in an hour of hiking vs 200 calories in an hour of walking. The more you weigh, the more calories you will burn. This assumes you will be walking and climbing over rougher terrain versus walking on a flat, smooth surface such as pavement.
5.) Great for your core
Core exercise is anything that strengthens your lower back and lower abdomen at the same time. It's your middle stuff! Hiking builds a strong core by getting you to use those muscles in a way you normally don't. You probably won't even realize it's happening as you go. This ins one of the beauties of it all. Core strengthening is one of the hardest things for people to do. Yet, it's one of the most neglected, and one of the most rewarding areas of the body to strengthen. A strong core will improve abdominal muscles and help lessen back pain, as well as improve all other muscle groups over time. Having a stronger core will help your overall body strength a lot.
6.) Benefits your heart and circulation
A good cardiovascular workout is any workout that gets your heart pumping a little faster than usual. Activities that increase blood and oxygen flow throughout your body and blood vessels, and work out your heart and lungs, are very helpful. Our heart is a muscle, and just like all of our muscles, it needs to be kept strong and taken care of. Cardio workouts also help your muscles use glucose in your body for energy. Cardio is basically the same as aerobic, which both bring extra oxygen to your blood, and gives you extra energy.
7.) Strengthens and tones muscles
This is pretty self explanatory. Climbing, however slowly or quickly, works on muscles you don't often otherwise work out on a daily basis. Walking from rock to rock over a shallow creek uses muscles not always utilized in every day life and that's the beauty of it. This is really important the older we get, and gives your bones future protection. Yes, muscle does have memory. And if we don't use it, we can lose it.
8.) Lowers blood sugar and blood pressure
When you exercise, muscles use the glucose in our blood for our muscles. This, then reduces the sugar in our blood. Too much sugar in our blood is a cause of diabetes. Exercising like this also makes our heart stronger, which in turn, helps put less pressure on our arteries and can lower blood pressure over time. Studies also show that lower blood sugar and lower blood pressure are closely related. Did you know? A study by Louisiana State University published in 2010 showed a direct link between sugary drinks and higher blood pressure in people.
9.) Improves bone density
Weight bearing exercises are good for your bones. The density of your bones can be increased by putting weight onto your bones using your muscles. Hiking benefits include bone density because climbing and bending your legs and arms will increase this activity and in turn, help prevent osteoporosis and weak bones. Being sedentary is not good for bones and muscles. Bones are stimulated to keep more calcium when muscles pull on them. Keeping calcium in your bones is keeping it where it needs to be. Getting sunlight by being outdoors, (even indirect sunlight) for just 10 minutes of sun a day, can also get your Vitamin D levels up where they need to be.
10.) Improves balance and coordination
If you need help in this area, take is slow. The good thing about hiking, is that it's not a race. You can go as slow or fast as you need to. Walking over land that is not flat, rocks and water, and stepping over obstacles is good for you to practice this. Go slow at first, and you will gradually improve over time as your brain and muscles connect. If you have trouble with balance and coordination, you will always want to hike with a helper.
Green Space Time in the Smokies
Why Animals Need Green Space Time
As I was writing this article, my granpuppy Elly, who I am babysitting for a few days, was running in and out from the back deck to inside the kitchen where I am on my laptop, typing. The deck is gated so she cannot go in the yard, only the deck. So as I write, she increasingly starts running in and out faster and faster, whining, whimpering and her anxiety level seems high. I looked outside. Was there anything out there bothering her? Something she wanted? I didn't see anything.
So needing a break, I decided her and I would have some "green time" of our own. I put her leash on and we went for a walk around the yard for about 15 minutes. We came back in, and I began typing some more. 20 minutes later, I realized how quiet it was. She was sound asleep.
I realized little Elly was happy as she could be. She was calm, no longer running around like the sky was about to fall. Things that make you go "hmmmm". Maybe, I think, everyone should try some "Green Time" a bit more often.
If green space can calm Elly down, it can do the same for us.
One of the best parts about hiking is that it's easy to get started. All you need are a good, comfortable pair of shoes and some comfortable clothes. My absolute favorite shoes are my Merrell Moab Ventilators. (you can see them in the picture above) And its time to go!
Getting Started is Easy
Research Shows Nature Therapy Works to Improve Health
Here are just a few examples of the studies that support this article for those interested. These are just a few. One can find many many sources that confirm what we all instinctively know. Nature is healing.
- Reducing Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Is Associated with Reduced Blood Pressure https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892032/
- In 2015, Gregory Bratman showed that nature experiences lowered cortisol stress levels along with other positive physical changes to the body. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.abstract
- 2015 Stanford University Study- Stanford Researchers Find Mental Health Prescription: Nature, https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/
- Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. Atchley RA, Strayer DL, Atchley P (2012) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0051474
- Psychology Today - Several studies in 2001 and 2002 2004 2009 2011 by Kuo, Taylor and Sullivan suggests mental fatigue caused by urban environments exacerbate ADHD as opposed to green more natural environments.
Quality Time for Self Care, or To Spend With Families and Friends
The definition of Quality Time:
(source: Cambridge English Dictionary)
One of my favorite things about hiking is the quality time we have with the people we choose to go with. If you have young kids, I can't think of anything better. But this goes for teenagers, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, Moms, Dads, gramas, grampas, cousins and friends alike. Anyone you want to spend time together with and not have all the distractions. Spending quality time with the people in your life shows them they are important to you. Many families are busy with hectic lives. Going on vacation in the Smokies is a great way to play together and have fun. Hiking is free. There are not many restrictions except walking. You can even find wheelchair accessible trails here. There are 1500 miles of trails in the Smoky Mountains. There are many trails that can be easily done in 1 or 2 hours.
For trail information, I recommend this map by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
On the bottom, right hand corner, you will find a (+) and (-) sign that lets you zoom in on specific trails.
One of the best beginner trails, which is wheelchair accessible, has easy access from Gatlinburg, is kid-friendly, dog-friendly, scenic, historical and has creek access is Gatlinburg Trail. If you have never been hiking and want to take a test run, I recommend it! I even made a video you can see below.
Whatever trail you choose, you can be sure that you are doing something good for yourself.
Body, mind and spirit.