Benefits of Hiking
Hikes heal. The last time I went on a beach hike, I was processing the loss of someone close to my heart. It was a difficult emotional time dealing with painful mental battles that I had never encountered before. Moments of confusion, anger, anxiety, pain and tears kept on going around and around in a never-ending cycle.
Then something shifted. Being outdoors, walking barefoot in the sand, soaking up the rays of sunshine and breathing deeply as the waves washed up on my feet did something to my physiology and nervous system that was nothing less than powerful.
The mental and emotional chaos got quieter, and the pain started to ease. It wasn’t time that did the healing, it was nature. My experience was far from unusual. We can all benefit from taking our exercise outdoors, whether it’s a walk in a park, on a beach or on one of the nature trails in Southwest Florida.
A growing number of studies have shown that spending time in nature improves both our physical and mental health. Our lives today are more stressful than ever. Our mental health battles with burnout, anxiety, depression and self-doubt, while our physical body fights poor nutrition, lack of sun exposure, lack of movement and poor posture, not to mention increased exposure to electromagnetic frequencies and air pollution.
The type of energy prevalent in this modern life is not what our physiology has evolved to thrive in. Our well-being craves the grounding energy found in nature; thus, the effects of a hike may be felt quickly.
EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
Being outdoors boosts serotonin production, which is associated with enhanced mood. Breathing in fresh air and negative ion-rich oxygen has a calming effect on the mind. It increases the alpha brainwaves and the parasympathetic part of the nervous system that switches the body from being in fight-or-flight, stressed mode into a rest-and-digest, calm state. A study that looked at how participants who walked in an urban environment felt compared with those on a nature walk showed significant benefits for the latter, such as decreased anxiety and rumination along with cognitive benefits and increased working memory performance.
MUSCULAR AND CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Going on a hike is a great way to reach those step-count goals. You could, however, do that on a treadmill too, so why hike instead? Whether on a beach or nature trail, the deep-sand beaches and uneven terrain put the body through a more intense workout, bumping up the heart rate, increasing metabolism, hence burning more calories and strengthening the muscles and the lungs. If you’re more advanced, you can also try jogging instead of walking.
VITAMIN D PRODUCTION
Seven out of 10 Americans are deficient in vitamin D, yet it’s one of the most important micronutrients for the human body. Its deficiency has been linked to cancer of the breast, colon and prostate; heart disease; depression; weight gain; increased rates of bone loss; and other health conditions. Supplements and food sources are options to increase vitamin D levels, but the ultimate way to soak up a sufficient amount is simply spending time outdoors. Remember, sunscreens block your skin from absorbing sunlight and converting UVB rays into vitamin D, so depending on your skin type, apply it 15 minutes to an hour after being outside.
Most of us spend the majority of our day under artificial lights, looking at computer screens or cellphones, which, especially toward the end of the day, decreases the body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for helping you fall asleep. Spending time in natural light helps reset the body’s circadian clock, which is essential for good-quality sleep. Have you ever noticed that you get a good night’s rest after spending a day at the beach? Natural sunlight exposure, fresh air and your direct connection to the earth, also known as grounding, create an overall biological boost, helping your body work optimally, so you can sleep deep and wake up rested and recharged.
Klaudia Balogh is a health and wellness writer for TOTI Media.