Can a Hike Make you Happy?

Can a Hike Make you Happy?

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When the grind of the city gets to be too much, my first instinct is to hit the trails. There is just something about hiking that pushes the stress of everyday life out of my head and lets me enjoy the simpler parts of life. Scientific research has even begun to provide evidence in support of the 10 ways that hiking makes my life a whole lot more enjoyable. Here’s how:

1. I can relax
A study in the Journal of Public Health found that people who spent time in nature showed significantly reduced levels of stress hormones in their bodies than people who remained in the city, and I can vouch for that! When I’m hiking, all the anxiety of work and assignments fades away behind the sound of rushing water and crunching leaves.

2. I can recuperate
Psychologists have known for a long time that spending time outdoors refreshes the mind. Research from the Journal of Environmental Psychology way back in 1995 demonstrated that people who went outside outperformed city dwellers on a number of challenging mental tasks. I know when I come back to an assignment after a hike, all the work suddenly seems more doable.

3. I can get inspired
There’s something about seeing nature at work that gets the creative juices flowing like nothing else. Maybe it’s being able to push all the usual stress out of the way, but scrambling up a mountain or hiking to a remote waterfall gets me thinking about things in entirely new ways and lets me find solutions to problems I didn’t even consider before.

4. I can improve my focus
Feeling rejuvenated after a hike also translates into me having more energy to spend on a given task. After I unlace my boots and wash off all the trail grit I can devote hours to a job that I only had the patience to tackle in 20-minute bursts before I got outside. There’s nothing like fresh air to clear your head.

5. I can fight off disease more effectively
Believe it or not, time spent outdoors can significantly improve your immune system. Several studies in the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, as well as the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, have found evidence that the Japanese practice of Shinrin Yoko (literally “forest bathing”) can boost immune function. The active agent is thought to be chemicals released by trees called phytoncides.

6. I look better
I have long suspected that if I didn’t hike every chance I get, I would quickly move up a few sizes in the world of pants and research seems to support that. Studies in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine have found that hiking is an effective way to shed extra pounds. The effects are even stronger if you can get hiking at high altitudes.

7. I feel invincible
I may not feel like a superhero when I’m sweating through my shirt and panting like a dog in a sauna on the side of a mountain, but when I haul myself onto the summit of a mountain I feel like I could outrun Usain Bolt. Research in the Journal of Travel Medicine supports the idea that hiking makes you feel strong, with respondents on hikes reporting stronger positive emotions than those who stayed at home.

8. I can test my limits
The only way to know what you are really capable of is to walk up to the limit of you physical ability and try to take one more step over the line. Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first two people to climb Mount Everest, probably said it best: “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

9. I can make new friends
Almost without exception, the people I’ve met on trails have been the nicest strangers I’ve come across anywhere in my life. The people I have been on hiking trips with are some of the fastest friends I have ever made. There is something about sharing a tough experience with another person that helps you set aside differences and find common ground.

10. I can change my perspective
You will never feel smaller than you do standing at the lip of the Grand Canyon or in an expansive mountain valley. Everything in the civilized world from taxes to car payments to a cell phone that constantly drops calls seems insignificant when you’re up against the scale of nature. It is nice to be reminded that everything in your life that seems like a big deal only really matters because you let it.

 

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