Person hiking with dog

6 Surprising Ways Hiking Can Improve Your Mental Health

HealthPlans of NC

From Blue Cross NC By Joe Miller

It’s curious how well-versed we are in the physical benefits of hiking. The activity can:

  • Reduce the risk of heart disease

  • Reduce your risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure. (Hiking regularly has been shown to lower blood pressure by 4 to 10 points.)

  • Reduce the incidence of diabetes.

  • Help you lose weight. An adult, on average, 

    burns 200 to 250 calories per hour hiking

     at a rate of 2.5 miles per hour. The number of calories doubles if you bump the pace to 4.5 miles per hour.

These physical benefits alone are reason enough to make you want to hike five miles a day.

But then consider that hiking may have an even more profound impact on your mental well-being. Why would you ever come off the trail? Among those mental and emotional benefits:

1. Reduces anxiety.

The American Hiking Society says your body produces adrenaline to cope with danger, real or perceived. If the adrenaline isn’t released, it accumulates, causing muscle tension and anxiety. Hiking is an accessible way of releasing that adrenaline. (Much more accessible than, say, to rock climbing or running an ultra marathon). Hiking also releases endorphins, which can improve mood.

2. Reduces the tendency to ruminate.

Along similar lines, a 2015 study at Stanford University found that people who walked in a natural setting for 90 minutes were less likely to dwell on negative thoughts about themselves. (FYI, a group that walked 90 minutes in an urban setting still had negative thoughts.)

3. Improves creative problem solving.

In another study, walking in nature and disconnecting from technology was found to improve creative problem-solving abilities by 50%.

In this case, participants spent four days backpacking without their phones. Detached from the constant distractions of a wired society, their brains were free to focus on the task at hand.

4. Reduces symptoms of ADHD.

In a study examining the impact of “green” activities on kids diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, “green outdoor activities reduced symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings.” The results were consistent along demographic lines.

5. Prevents dementia and cognitive impairment.

Another study found that exercise can prevent or slow dementia. One of the authors of the study, Dr. Joyce Gomes-Osman, told Healthline, “It’s direct evidence that exercise can turn back the clock in the brain.”

6. Curtails the loss of gray matter.

After 40, we begin to lose brain matter–especially gray matter, which helps us process information. But exercise “can grow and promote gray matter retention and thickness in important regions of the brain,” says Dr. Sarah C. McEwen.

While any type of exercise might seem to help with these conditions, hiking has an added benefit. Outdoors, on the trail, you’re in an environment that McEwen says forces you “to use spatial navigation, your memory, and your attention” with every step.

In addition to being so good for you, we should mention one other thing about hiking: It’s fun.

Interested in learning more about health insurance? Schedule a call with the agent on this page or hit the button below for a quick and easy insurance quote!

Ready to get started?

See plans and pricing today.

Related Articles

Person looking at a smartphone beside a Christmas tree
Health, Mental Health

Spending The Holidays Alone? 3 Tips To Take Care Of Your Mental Health

With COVID-19 cases rising, many of us have chosen to stay home for the holidays. This might bring up feelings of sadness or loneliness.
To cope with difficult feelings, make a self-care plan ahead of time.
HealthPlans of NC

Emilie Poplett

Couple talking to a therapist
Health, Mental Health

How To Find A Therapist If You've Never Had One Before

Mental health professionals are in high demand right now. Given that we’re eighteen months into a deadly global pandemic, this is no surprise. Many of us are grieving the loss of loved ones, jobs, plans, and normalcy. And if that’s not hard enough, the stresses of our everyday lives haven’t stopped.
At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), your total health is our top priority, now more than ever, including your mental and emotional health.
If you’re struggling with your mental health and need some extra support, you’re not alone. Studies show that the rate of anxiety and depression has risen significantly among American adults during the pandemic. And our children’s mental health is suffering, too.
HealthPlans of NC

via Blue Cross NC by Emilie Poplett

Mental health support for your family, friends, and neighbors

How To Help Someone Who Is Struggling With Mental Health

For the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that my neighbor seems, well, a bit off. Once talkative and outgoing, he is now reserved and disinterested. When we do speak, his comments reflect hopelessness.
These interactions are common. I now have similar conversations with coworkers, friends and family members. Although it’s certainly not all “doom and gloom,” my loved ones mention sleepless nights, invasive thoughts, loneliness – and yes, hopelessness.
Indeed, research shows that during times of crisis, the prevalence of anxiety and depression is expected to double. Those with pre-existing mental health or substance-related conditions are among the most vulnerable. People at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 (such as older adults or those with underlying health conditions) may also experience more worry.
HealthPlans of NC

Blue Cross NC

Ready to get started?

See plans and pricing today.