trail on hillside

Hiking Towards Better Mental Health

I recently spent the weekend in Zion National Park in Utah. Limited phone service, warmer weather, time in nature, and time with friends without the distraction of screens left me feeling so refreshed and reenergized. Not only is hiking great for our physical health, but there are so many mental health benefits as well.

Spending time in nature can help boost your mood and improve your mental health. A study was done by researchers at Stanford University which found spending quality time outdoors can reduce stress, calm anxiety, and even lower the risk of depression. Here are some of the benefits to hiking:

Improves self-esteem and confidence. If you are completing a challenging hike, or even starting out hiking with a goal to go once a month or once a week, you may feel a sense of accomplishment which can help boost your self-esteem. Hiking can leave you feeling stronger, more capable, and accomplished.

Better sleep. Regular exercise can help improve insomnia and sleep. Researchers believe this is because exercise can help stabilize and decompress the mind.

Improves memory and brain function. Hiking increases blood flow to the brain, which carries with it oxygen and important nutrients that help keep our brain cells nourished and healthy. Spending time in nature has also been found to reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness.

Builds Connections. Hiking with your partner, friends, or a hiking group is a great way to build connections. You feel more present, grateful, and less distracted by technology when you spend time outside with others.

Reduces negativity. A recent study https://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567 found that hiking in nature helps reduce obsessive and negative thoughts of rumination. Stanford University found that people who walked in a natural setting for 90 minutes were less likely to dwell on negative thoughts about themselves.

Makes us feel more present. Spending time in nature is great because there are not distractions coming from our phones, computer, and/or television. You are allowing yourself and your mind to step outside itself when spending time in nature.

Boosts problem-solving skills. Another study found that walking was found to improve creative problem-solving skills by 50%. The study included participants who spent four days hiking in nature without their phones, allowing their minds to focus on the task at hand.

If you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious, I challenge you to call a friend and go check out a local hiking trail or go explore on your own. With summer right around the corner this is a great activity to help maintain and even boost your mental health.

Sources:

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep
https://www.52hikechallenge.com/blogs/blog/the-healing-power-of-hiking-practicing-mindfulness-on-the-trail
https://blog.bcbsnc.com/2021/04/six-surprising-ways-hiking-can-improve-your-mental-health/

Jill Haupts, Outreach Coordinator for The Kim Foundation

Jill Haupts is the Outreach Coordinator at The Kim Foundation. She received her bachelor’s degree in Child, Adult, and Family Services from Iowa State University in 2016. Jill joined the Kim Foundation in January of 2020, coming from Des Moines, Iowa. Her previous experience includes volunteer recruitment and fundraising, as well as experience coordinating services and providing resources to adults who have a mental health diagnosis. Jill’s role in the foundation is coordinating event logistics, presenting and attending community fairs, as well as volunteer coordination and recruitment. She enjoys working in the nonprofit field and has a passion for advocacy and helping others.