If you want to have a healthy brain for a long time and enjoy mental well-being, it’s important to pay attention to exactly how what you are doing affects your brain. A modern problem that we all deal with is the presence of stressful environments in our daily lives.
Combined with sound pollution and crowded cities, this can exhaust our brain. Restful states are needed for your brain’s proper growth, development, and maintenance. This can be difficult to achieve in the city, at work, or even in our homes.
Your brain regularly needs a reset. A break from over-stimulus can work wonders for allowing your brain to regain proper balance and function. This can also lead to setting the foundation for lasting cognitive health and prompts the question ‘Is hiking good for you’?
Why is hiking good for your mental health? Hiking provides these amazing benefits that can help you improve your brain health at any age. The combination of escape from stressful environments, fresh air, exercise, and the soothing stimuli of nature can actually make physiological changes in your brain that you can benefit from. Learn more about the mental benefits of hiking and trekking and what hiking does to your brain below.
Your Brain’s Response To Exercise In Nature
Our brain is complex and thoroughly interconnected. Each region of the brain governs certain functions that connect the nerves throughout your body.
They work to absorb information from a stimulus, relay that information to other parts of your body, and make executive decisions. . But sometimes, these connections may be weakened. This can result in difficulties in regulating mood and cognitive functions.
Hiking can act as therapy by helping us get back that function, develop interconnectivity in neuropathways, and continue to grow and develop our brain. Exercise in nature is known to increase blood flow throughout the brain, stimulating areas related to memory, executive functions, special awareness, and whole-body movements.
The results are not the same as an exercise in busy or crowded city areas. It is a unique effect of the tranquility of nature. The brain is able to return to a naturally relaxed state and is not overwhelmed or distracted by excessive sensory stimuli.
Brain Regions That Most Benefit From Hiking
One of the most noteworthy changes that occur in the brain due to hiking is in the Limbic System. The limbic system pertains to several regions of the brain with closely interconnected functions.
Together they perform complex functions such as learning, forming new memories, and regulating behavior. The limbic regions are linked to mood regulation, emotions, and thought patterns. It works closely with the nervous system to process emotional information and is associated with chronically depressed states.
Improved Memory and Long-term Cognitive Health
The hippocampus is an important part of the limbic system. It’s located in temporal lobes and governs memory and spatial awareness. Decreased volume of the hippocampus is associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s and general cognitive decline.
It’s well known that physical activity prevents this cognitive decline. With the low-intensity yet endurance building of hiking, a positive affect on the size of the hippocampus can be seen. Additionally, being in nature helps to engage memory-building functions by creating pleasant sensory rich memories.
Soothe Fear Response and Chronic Anxiety
Another mental benefit of hiking is that it is also known to help you deal with anxieties. The amygdala is responsible for producing those rushes of feelings such as fear, anxiety, and euphoria.
It’s what is creating the feelings of dread as you approach something you find frightening. It works with your emotional memories as a reference from past experiences that were traumatic or frightening to reproduce those feelings for your safety.
It is also what is responsible for recognizing the emotions of other people’s faces. When there are problems with the amygdala, it may become difficult to process emotion or require longer amounts to process highly emotional experiences.
The exercise hiking provides can strengthen the circuitry that helps integrate these memories with the rest of your brain and speed up emotional processing. It has a soothing effect of being in nature that creates natural endorphins to further help the calming of the amygdala.
Improve Ability to Change Habits
Near the middle of the brain is a region known as the basal ganglia. This area of the brain controls your voluntary movement, the learning of new habits, your eye movement, as well as other cognitive and emotional functions. This area is related to another hiking health benefit.
The type of activity that benefits the basal ganglia integrates the use of your entire body while also being exposed to new activities and movements. Hiking is perfect for achieving these effects due to the variety of terrain you’ll encounter in nature. The changing scenes and each micro adjustment made for uneven terrain will engage your whole body.
The mental benefits of hiking and trekking are numerous for your brain. While regular exercise by itself can be an important habit for your cognitive health, hiking provides a more dynamic and integrative approach to strengthening and balancing your brain. With time, lasting changes can be made.