Four years ago I started an after-work hiking program for folks who sat at a desk all day. I knew that getting out on the trail will be good for them.
As an author and a hiking expert, I have always tried to encourage others to give hiking a try. I’ve always thought it was an accessible way to exercise and it can eliminate some of the stress we face in daily life.
A hike can serve as a reboot for your body. It also allows you the necessary time to center yourself, gather your thoughts and to get your blood pumping.
“Five minutes out here and I’ve already forgotten what I was stressed about when I got here,” one of my earliest hikers told me.
Release stress by hiking or trail walking
Indeed, an increasing number of studies show that hiking — even just being out in the woods — can do wonders for relieving stress, anxiety and even depression.
According to the American Psychological Association, while it’s generally believed that the rush of endorphins associated with hiking and other forms of exercise is behind why we’re happier after a workout, there’s growing research suggesting something else is at play. Reports the APA, “one line of research points to the less familiar neuromodulator norepinephrine, which may help the brain deal with stress more efficiently.” It’s not important to unwrap “neuromodulator norepinephrine;” the takeaway is that there’s science behind hiking’s good vibes.
Hiking and other types of exercise can also train the body to better deal with stress. That grueling climb on a mountain trail that you thought would never end? Turns out it helps key body systems — cardiovascular, renal, muscular — better communicate with one another. Those fluid lines of communication are important when your body must deal with stress.
The American Hiking Society cites research noting that sedentary activity can cause adrenaline, which helps the body cope with real and perceived danger, to accumulate in the body. Accumulate too much adrenaline and your muscles will tense up and you’ll feel anxious.
One study cited by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, an arm of the National Institutes of Health, found that hiking just twice a week was sufficient to not only ease depression and improve overall mental health, it also seemed to help patients deemed at risk of suicide.
Mother Nature’s Sounds Can Soothe and Reduce Stress, Try It!
For decades, the Japanese have practiced shinrin-yoku, which has more recently caught on in the United States as “forest bathing” — literally going into the woods and letting the forest — the sounds, the scents, the light, the air — wash over you. Basically, the idea is to slow down, unplug, let your mind reset. Research done primarily in Japan and Korea shows that in addition to reducing stress, forest bathing has been shown to lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. (Read more about the benefits of Forest Bathing here.)
In addition to the science behind how hiking helps reduce stress, there’s also the realization that by taking a hike, your body is benefitting in the ways we touched on in the beginning — by improving heart health, reducing the risk of certain diseases, helping you lose weight. If those are health issues you worry about, take a hike and you’ll have that many fewer things to stress over.