7 Seriously Cool Perks That Hiking Brings To Your Mental Health
There are many methods of improving mental health and it’s difficult to value one option over another.
With that said, exercise (and backpacking as such) is a proven way of benefiting mental health for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are:
- Increased endorphin levels
- Increased serotonin levels
- Maximized blood flow
- Healthier brain chemicals
The above reasons are not the only beneficial factors of exercise on mental health. With this said, backpacking is exercise-intensive and can have powerful benefits for your mental health.
This is in addition to our extensive article related to the astonishing emotional gains of hiking that I highly recommend you check out.
Read through the following information to see just how exactly backpacking is beneficial for your health, both physically and mentally, and without knowing you’ll be booking a trip somewhere in your near future.
Let’s dive right in.
Getting Out into the Great Outdoors
There have been studies into the benefits of heading outdoors and your mental health. The research that has been discovered is both fascinating and shocking.
Studies show that simply spending time outside in a green environment can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Even if you are not experiencing serious mental health issues, getting outdoors can result in self-esteem boosts and a reduction in stress.
As a side note, if you are unable to hit the hills anytime soon for a trip, consider buying a green plant for the office or house. Simply having this around may give similar benefits.
The Mental Perks Of Hiking
Were you aware that city dwellers have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorder and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders? Those born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia. However, researchers conducted a study with two groups of participants who simply hiked for 90 minutes.
One group hiked in a grassland scattered with oak trees and shrubs, and the other walked around a city.
The researchers found that the people who walked outdoors had decreased emotional reaction, as well as better regulated heart rates and physiological conditions.
#1 Interactions With Other People
Humans are social creatures and being around other people can help boost mental health and our moods.
Relational health is just as important to mental health as physical health, so grabbing a friend, neighbor, or even a stranger and taking a short hike can improve your relationships. As your relationships deepen and improve, your relational health improves as well.
Not to mention that hiking is a fantastic first date idea.
#2 Improved Mood
Emotions that are expressed freely and without judgment have a beneficial impact on our health.
Conversely, bottled up emotions can leave anybody feeling frustrated and upset. It’s not a secret that exercising regularly helps to release these emotions by replacing the tensions with positive endorphins and chemicals such as serotonin.
Backpacking is no exception.
Combining the effects of being outdoors with the increase in endorphins, a backpacking trip can increase your mood and leave you feeling less anxious or stressed than before you went on your trip.
#3 Improved Physical Health
Physical health and mental health are directly intertwined with one another. By improving physical health, a person can begin to improve their mental health as well.
The clearest link between these two is in terms of longevity. In fact, those who live with depression have been linked to a 50% increase in risk of dying from cancer and a 67% increase of heart disease.
Exercise is a healthy way of preventing the likelihood of these scenarios and can help improve cholesterol and blood pressure.
Therefore, it should go without saying that getting outside for a backpacking expedition can help improve your physical health and, by extension, your mental health.
Do you agree?
#4 A Distraction from Triggers
The modern day can be extremely distracting with social media and other triggers for anxiety, stress, and even depression.
Regardless of whether or not you are experiencing a mental health crisis, getting unplugged from the world and stepping out into nature, away from cities, is a great way to distract oneself from the stresses of day-to-day life.
By decreasing the negative inputs from addictive apps and sensory overload, a person can clear their mind of worries and just focus on the beauty of nature.
#5 Improved Cognitive Functions
Interestingly enough, it is believed that hiking and backpacking can increase memory, focus, and even problem solving in the short and long term!
All these increases can help with performance in the workplace, academically, or anywhere else, as well as increase your overall self-esteem.
Now, isn’t that a significant reason to start hiking every day?
#6 More in Tune with Perceptive Abilities
Along the same line of thinking with cognitive functions, backpacking can help a person become in tune with their perceptive abilities.
By being out in nature and taking everything in, whether it’s listening for animals, finding food or firewood, or something else, you are training your brain to live in the moment and rely on immediate perception, rather than theory.
This mindset can carry back home from the trip and leave you with a heighted perception that stops any anxiety or stress triggers that may not be based on fact in your life.
#7 Relieving Insomnia
Finally, backpacking can actually relieve insomnia!
Being exposed to sunlight earlier in the morning is a crucial step for your circadian rhythm to produce melatonin at night when it is time for bed. This is the largest reason backpacking and hiking can help with insomnia.
Additionally, backpacking can help stabilize and improve your mood (as mentioned) and destress, as well as decompress, your mind.
With this freedom and clear head, the body and mind can relax and sleep can potentially come easier than it ever has before.
As mentioned, exercise is an important way to improve mental health. Combine this strategy with a healthy diet, plenty of water, vitamins, meditation, and other strategies if you feel the need to cultivate a positive mindset.
With this said, it’s important to recognize when mental health concerns have grown beyond your control.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed professional if you believe you are in need of help. Trained therapists and counselors can help anybody come to terms with mental health concerns and improve their mindsets.
Hiking is undoubtedly good for you. That’s unequivocally backed up by science.
But realizing the fascinating mental benefits that hitting the trails brings is even more mind-bending.
As we pointed out, backpacking:
- Relieves insomnia
- Improves our perceptive abilities
- Improves our cognitive functions
- Provides healthy distraction from every day triggers
- Enhances our physical health, which is directly related to our mental one
- Significantly improves our mood
- Improves our relationships and social interactions when done in a group, which affects our mental wellbeing.
And that wraps up our guide on the psychological benefits that hiking exerts on our brain and mental wellbeing.
What’s the strongest mental benefit of hiking that you feel the most? Drop us a comment below!
Founder of this website, Asen is a passionate hiker and writer who is also a gear nerd. He’s been featured on many established hiking websites where he gives hiking advice & tips. When he is not trekking with his family or friends, he is writing articles and product reviews. Asen spends most of his time in Bulgaria but he constantly travels the world in seek of more unforgettable experiences. Read more about Asen here.