In the spirit of Earth Day, it’s time to get outside! It isn’t difficult to convince people of the benefits of spending time outdoors but a friend of mine just sent an article on how hiking changes the brain (Yep, that’s right – getting out in nature and walking around has tangible effects on your brain chemistry!) and it was a confirmation of how I feel about hiking. You can certainly feel the effects of being outside…. physically – fresh air in the lungs, emotionally – the calm of having the sun on your face, and often spiritually – finding a quiet and still space to just be… but this article supports those well-known natural feelings scientifically.
One of the studies in the article, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that spending time in nature decreases obsessive and negative thinking. To test this, researchers compared the rumination of participants who hiked through a natural landscape and those who hiked through an urban environment. They found that the participants who walked for 90 minutes in nature reported less rumination than those in an urban setting. These participants also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (say that 3 times fast), which is an area of the brain associated with mental illness.*
There was another study referenced in the article about the link between time spent hiking and an increase in creativity and creative problem solving. Psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer had participants backpack through nature for 4 days without any connection to technology. They were then asked to perform tasks that involved creative thinking and complex problem solving and the psychologists measured that the performance on these tasks improved by 50%.*
A simple walk in the park after work or a nice substantial hike on the weekend will do wonders for calming, centering and grounding. It’ll also uplift the spirit and boost your brain for better thinking, which can translate into better feeling.
We’re so lucky to have the amount of open space that we do in the East Bay. There is an abundance of options for hiking whether you’re looking for something easy to start out with or looking for those steep hills to conquer. Check out the two links below to trail maps of Castle Rock Park & the Diablo Foothills in Walnut Creek and also the Briones Open Space bordering Martinez, Pleasant Hill & Lafayette. The trails marked in red are beginning and there are phone numbers for each park that you can call to inquire about other paths and hikes. Whatever you choose, go enjoy some time outdoors to reconnect to that natural state of being. Happy trails!