Summer has arrived and the outdoors is beckoning into the warm sunshine, cool shade, tall pines and scenic trails. Spending time outdoors and in nature can be very enjoyable and relaxing, but did you know spending time outside can also make you happier and healthier? Here are just a few ways hiking is a great addition to your weekly routine:
Calmer mind and body. Being in nature provides a feeling of relaxation that reduces anxiety and stress. In fact, just seeing pictures of nature helps reduce stress and brings a sense of calm. Additionally, the scent of many plants such as lavender, jasmine, lilacs and roses are proven to calm and relax the mind and body. The scent of fresh pine has even been shown to lower depression and anxiety.
Less depression; more happiness. Doing activities in nature naturally lifts the mood, decreases depression and anxiety, and brings a sense of peace. A 2010 Harvard study links nature walks to better overall mental health and positivity, fewer feelings of depression and stress and a reduction in anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications. The study also showed that people who exercised outdoors had a lower risk of poor mental health than those who exercised indoors.
Restored brain function. Walking and interacting with nature gives your brain a break from everyday overstimulation, which translates into a restorative effect. Outside, the brain’s energy can recover and replenish, much like recharging a battery. The simple act of a casual stroll or hike up a mountain can yield amazing results, without much thought required.
Increased focus, concentration, creativity. A study published by Wilderness Society revealed that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent. The National Institutes of Health reports people who take “outdoor breaks” throughout the day are more focused and have better concentration skills than those who remain indoors for long periods of time. Have a difficult task or decision or trouble concentrating? Perhaps a short or long hike will lift the fog and bring clarity.
Stronger muscles; better mobility. Hiking increases endurance and bone density, as well as builds stronger muscles. Core muscles are strengthened, which means relief from lower back pain and more stability that increases balance and decreases falls. Numerous studies suggest walking and gardening can help dementia and stroke patients live a higher quality of life by instilling confidence while increasing mobility and dexterity.
Exercise is productive. Just one hour of semi-strenuous hiking can burn well over 500 calories. People who run or cycle outside exert more energy than those on treadmills or stationary bikes, with less strain on the body. And because most people say they enjoy outside exercise more than indoors exercise they engage more regularly and for longer periods.
High altitude promotes weight loss. A 2013 International Journal of Obesity study found that Americans who live at sea-level are four to five times more likely to be obese than those who live in the highest altitude communities, such as Flagstaff. Add in some hiking and walking and you have a great weight-loss combination.
Stronger immune system. Getting enough Vitamin D, which naturally comes from the sun, is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system. And breathing fresh air, especially when exerting yourself, helps stimulate the body to produce illness-fighting white blood cells and prevent sickness.
Lower blood pressure. Logging cardio workouts in the form of hiking can lower blood pressure by four to 10 points and reduce the danger of heart disease, diabetes and strokes for those who are at high risk, according to the American Heart Association.
Improved sleep. Want to sleep when it is dark? Get outside when it is light. Sleep patterns regulated by the body’s internal clock, called circadian rhythm, are naturally tied to the sun’s schedule. Spending too much time inside away from natural light can alter our circadian rhythms, resulting in poor sleep patterns.
So, hit the trails. Spending time outdoors, whether you are hiking, walking, biking, gardening or golfing is good for you. Living in Northern Arizona makes enjoying nature easy – just step outside. Grab your hat, sunscreen and water bottle and let’s hit the trails.
NACA’s Spring Into Summer Hiking Series is open to the community. The monthly hikes range from 1.5 miles to 7 miles in popular Flagstaff hiking locations. Scheduled hike dates are May 4, June 8, July 13, Aug. 3, Sept. 7 and Oct. 5. All hikes begin at 7:30 a.m.; some hikes include free gifts for participants. Pre-registration is suggested, but not required.
For more information on the series or other health and wellness activities, call the NACA Family Health & Wellness Center at 928-773-1245 or email NACAWellnessCenter@NACAInc.org. FBN
NACA, Inc. is a non-profit organization that offers primary care and behavioral health services and education and a low-cost fitness center at the same location. NACA’s programs and services are available to people of all cultures, not just Native Americans.
To learn more, visit NACAInc.org or call 928-773-1245. Stay up-to-date on new events, health topics and services by following NACA on Facebook.
By Sheena Tallis
Sheena Tallis is the Health Promotions Program manager at NACA, Inc.