Oh, Mary

Hiking to Heal the Mind, Body, and Spirit

August 25, 2020
Bianca Mohn

It’s the last week of August, and the sixth month that many of us have been working from home. Is the honeymoon phase of remote working beginning to wear off? A bit. 

As many WFH warriors can relate, there are pros to this new normal. Wearing stretchy waistbands, not having to commute, cultivating a space of peace and quiet (if you don’t have kids), and eating a proper lunch at the kitchen table rather than at your desk are all major perks. On the flip side, the cons of not being able to physically separate your work life and personal life (hello distractions), not connecting with colleagues face to face, and the psychological drain of Zoom calls (a very real phenomenon). 

If this new reality is making you feel tired, listless, uninspired, and frustrated with the world, fear not. There is something you can do today that can boost your energy, creativity, productivity, and mood. And no, it’s not more coffee. 

It’s taking a hike in nature. 

I have loved hiking and outdoor adventuring for years. But it wasn’t until I started working on our Northside account that I began to have a greater appreciation of why being in nature is so good for us on a scientific level. Here are just a few benefits of spending more time in nature.

It boosts our mood. According to Harvard Health, “Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.” In fact, a 2015 study found that people who walked for 90 minutes in nature compared to an urban setting had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that is active when we focus on our negative emotions. Even 15 to 30 minutes walking in nature a few times a week can support our mental health and well-being. 

It improves our memory and cognitive health. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of Successful Aging, is a proponent of hiking to exercise not only your body but your mind as well. “If you’re talking about brain health, the hippocampus – the brain structure that mediates memory – evolved for geo-navigation, to help us remember where we are going, so that we can move toward food and mates and away from danger. If we don’t keep that part exercised, we do so at our own peril,” says Levitin in an interview with Inc. To stay mentally sharp, take a hike. 

It increases our productivity. Fatigue is the enemy of efficient work. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine used brain-scanning devices to monitor “brain fatigue” as participants walked through downtown Edinburgh and through parks. What they found was that participants who walked through parks produced calmer and more meditative brain scans compared to those who walked through downtown. To give your brain a productivity boost, take a break, surround yourself with greenery, and restore your energy levels.

It supports our creativity. Researchers at Stanford University found that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60% when walking. Another study from the University of Kansas found that immersion in nature without technology increased creativity and problem-solving task performance by 50% for a group of hikers. In stepping away from our workspaces and into nature, we’re able to breathe, de-stress, get the endorphins flowing, and think differently about the issues at hand. 

Of course, ancient wisdom and philosophy have expounded on the healing powers of nature for thousands of years. That said, to see this knowledge being reflected in the latest studies is exciting in itself. There’s still so much to discover and understand about our natural world, and the myriad of ways we interact with our environment. 

Hippocrates wrote many years ago that “Nature itself is the best physician.” Today, as busy professionals navigating our chaotic world, this couldn’t be more true. So take care of yourself, do your best, and embrace all that nature has to offer.