Take a Hike for your Mental Health

It might sound unlikely, but there is a treatment for several types of mental illnesses that is absolutely free. If you’re saying to “Take a hike” because that seems improbable, you actually guessed right! Hikes in nature are shown to help with symptoms of mental illness, and even cause a decrease in activity in the areas of the brain that are linked with depression and anxiety. So “Take a Hike” for your mental health! 

Exercise for Mental Health

Why does hiking help with symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety? There are several reasons. The first is simple. It is a great way to get exercise! Exercise is one of the most recommended forms of treatment for mental health. Just 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week can make a big difference in someone’s outlook, flipping negative feelings on their head and causing several positive changes in the body. This is because exercise causes an increase in a hormone called endorphins. With endorphins, you feel calmer throughout the day and even sleep better at night. The benefits of exercise have even proven as effective as some antidepressant medications. This is why exercise will often be recommended by therapists before medication is used. 

Nature does the body, and mind, good!

Another great benefit of hiking in nature is that natural settings have a calming effect on the human mind. In a study by Stanford researchers, they compared the mental activity of people who went on a 90-minute walk in a natural setting, vs. the mental activity of those who went on a 90-minute walk in an urban setting. Those who spent their walk in nature showed reduced activity in the areas of their brain that are connected with anxiety and depression. Those in urban environments showed no change. So, if you’re looking for somewhere to walk to clear your mind, make sure to visit a park to make the most of it!

Safety while hiking 

If you’re going to give hiking a try to boost your mood, make sure to do so safely. A full hike might be a lot more involved than just taking a walk in a local park. Make sure you’re traveling with a buddy, and let your loved ones know where you’ll be. When you arrive at the trailhead, often there will be a log you can sign to alert park rangers of your presence. When you’re done, sign out. These are checked multiple times a day to ensure no one is lost. To prepare for your hike, check all safety precautions on national park websites and plan your travel accordingly. 

What to Pack for the Best Hike Ever!

You don’t have to bring the kitchen sink along, but you want to be well-prepared to enjoy your time hiking to the fullest. Even a short hike might turn into a longer trek if you make a wrong turn, so it helps to pack the essentials, plus a little extra just in case.

  • Lots of water
  • sunscreen
  • bug spray
  • high-protein snacks and food
  • printed map of the area and a compass
  • radio
  • sturdy footwear
  • light rain jacket or poncho
  • first aid kit
  • Lighter or waterproof matches
  • quick-reference survival guide with instructions on how to build a fire, etc. 
  • Knife or multi-tool
  • Spare change of clothes

Resources

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

The Ten Essentials for Camping & Hiking