9 Amazing Benefits of Hiking – Physical, Mental and Social

mental benefits of hiking

Mental Benefits of Hiking

It’s not quite as simple as strapping on some boots, walking for 3 hours, and then composing a Concerto in time for tea – but hiking does actively boost how creative we are:

One of the biggest things that hinders our creative progress and mind power is our attention spans – in the modern world, we are beset upon by emails, texts, notifications and the bleeping, buzzing ‘PAY ME ATTENTION’ sounds of our mobile phones and other devices; all of which condition us into becoming easily distracted, and hindering our ability to focus for extended periods.

Research by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that spending time outdoors increases our ability to focus, our attention spans, and our problem-solving skills by up to 50 per cent. If ever there were a case for the mind-numbing impact of modern life, this was it, and this is possibly one of the most socially insightful and profound benefits of hiking.

Crucially, the researchers don’t simply put this down to one thing, but the variety of benefits that venturing into the great outdoors can have. Hiking offers us the chance to get fresh air, plenty of vitamin D-boosting sunlight, along with getting us away from our electronic devices for hours at a time – something that we all-too-rarely get to experience.

Combine this with the fact that Stanford University researchers found that participants gave more creative responses to questions when walking on a treadmill than those sat in a chair. 

5. It can help your body heal

While there’s plenty of evidence to support the argument that hiking can help prevent all kinds of health problems, there’s even some indication that it can help the body to recover after serious conditions such as cancer.

There are a lot of forces at play in conditions such as cancer, many of which we don’t fully understand, but there’s some evidence that indicates hiking might play a role in improving the antioxidative capacity in oncological patients.

If that all sounds a little too sciency, the essence of these findings is that among the many benefits of hiking may be the indication that the activity helps patients either suffering with cancer, or in recovery from treatment, fight off disease – and help the body in its work to reduce the progression, recurrence, and onset of cancer.

It’s also important not to underestimate the psychological benefits it can provide, with many people living with cancer citing how much better hiking can make them feel, and how well it can fit into their recovery. 

6. Improves overall mental health

It’s hard to underestimate the psychological benefits of hiking. Simply getting out of the house, flat, or other indoor space you spend most of your time, and enjoying the tranquillity of nature and a stimulating fresh breeze can do wonders for the soul – and there’s plenty of evidence that hiking can actively improve our overall mental health.

Conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties, are more prominent than ever – in fact, mental health charity Mind notes that in the UK, 1 in 4, yes, a quarter of the population, will experience a mental health problem every year.

It’s not at all uncommon for us to struggle with conditions like depression – but new research has found that even a 90-minute walk in nature can have a dramatic effect on the brain, and the way we feel.

Research already exists that indicates how a walk outside can provide an uplifting boost to our mood, but new data collected by researchers at Stanford University, have found that the roots go much deeper than that.

They asked participants to fill in a rumination questionnaire (rumination is basically repetitive and usually negative self-reflection – and it’s a key element of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety) and conducted a brain scan, before participants complete a walk in either an urban or an outdoor environment. They then asked participants to fill in the questionnaire again and took a comparative brain scan. Their findings? We’ll give you one guess.

The participants who had taken the walk in a natural environment showed significant and consistent reductions in ruminative thought, both through the questionnaire responses and their brain scan.

This suggests that hiking doesn’t just perk you up a bit, it actually changes the way your brain works, and draws focus away from negative, repetitive thought. There’s plenty more to be discovered, and these findings suggest that we’ve only just scratched the surface of the potential psychological benefits of hiking. 

7. It helps you unplug

We spend a frankly astonishing amount of time ‘plugged in’. A few statistics on how much time we spend in the digital world offer a stark and undisputable view into the modern world, and how prominent our screens are in our lives:

  • Children aged 8 and under spend 48 minutes a day in front of mobile screens alone – up from 15 minutes only 4 years ago
  • If trends remain the same, the average adult will spend a staggering 5 years and 4 months of their life on social media
  • Our growing obsession with mobile phones and iPads has led to a 13 per cent drop in time spent with friends over the last 15 years

We’ve not put these figures in to berate our readers (as we appreciate that as you’re reading Roaming Spices, you’re almost certainly using a screen right now…), or to try and make anyone feel bad – our new modern world of technology is a wonderful thing, and we can do things we once never dreamed about, with ease.