How hiking helps a boomer’s active lifestyle

We’re all about active lifestyles here at BoomerCafé. So we like the advice in this piece by Michael Pirrone that we saw on wimp.com. It’s really pretty simple: if you want to live an active lifestyle, hiking can help … in more ways than one.

The great outdoors might just be greater than you think. There are plenty of us who love to spend as many hours of the day as we can in the great outdoors, and hiking is obviously healthy for the body, but a lot of us never give much thought to how hiking could benefit our mental health as well. It turns out that hiking might just be your ticket to a brand-new brain, whether you’re passionate about the outdoors, or just force yourself to take a stroll around your local park.

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Recent studies about the effects of hiking and nature have been directed at understanding just how this recreational activity affects both the physiological and mental aspects of our brains. And we need to understand that. The average American child now spends half as much time outside as compared to only 20 years ago. HALF.

Only 6 percent of children will play outside on their own in a typical week. Conversely, kids are now spending almost eight hours per day watching television, playing video games, or using a computer, tablet, or phone for recreational purposes. That number actually jumps up to ten hours if you count doing two things at once! Overall, Americans now spend 93 percent of their time inside a building or vehicle.

So, what does this mean for human beings? Well, unless we get a little more proactive about embracing fresh air and dirt under our feet, the prognosis is pretty grim. The bright side is, as with all great medicine, when it comes to the outdoors, a little goes a long way.

According to a study published last July in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a 90-minute walk through a natural environment had a huge positive impact on participants. In a survey taken afterwards, those people who took the natural walk showed far lower levels of brooding, or obsessive worry. The control group who spent that 90 minutes walking through a city reported no such difference.

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Not only that, but the scientists went a step further and did brain scans of the subjects. They found that there was decreased blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. What in the world does that mean? Well, increased blood flow to this region of the brain is associated with bad moods. Everything from feeling sad about something, to worrying, to major depression seem to be tied to this brain region. Hiking deactivates it.

Psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found in their 2012 study that after a four-day-long hike in the wilderness, with no access to technology, participants scored a whopping 50 percent higher on a test known as RAT, or Remote Associates Test. It’s a simple way of measuring the creative potential in people. A series of three words are given; for instance, “same, tennis, and head.” The test-taker has to find a fourth word that connects the first three. In this case, the answer is “match.”

A 50 percent increase is a huge leap up in performance by research standards. Problem-solving skills like this are thought to originate in the same area of the brain that we also use for selective attention and threat detection, meaning our ability to think creatively is being overwhelmed by the constant stimulus of digital, indoor living.

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Hiking is a pretty solid aerobic exercise that burns around 400-700 calories per hour. This is great on its own, but aerobic exercise also has a really positive effect on your brain: it improves your memory. It’s even being studied as a way to help seniors fight off dementia, because it doesn’t just increase your ability to store information, it also reduces memory loss. Outdoor activity has also been shown to improve grades, so it’s a pretty solid choice all around for juicing your grey matter.

According to a 2010 report in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, even getting out into nature for five minutes at a stretch is enough to give your self-esteem a substantial upgrade. Spending the entire day outdoors results in a second jump upwards! Walking near water seemed to have the biggest effect, so when planning your next hike, be sure to seek out a location with some great streams, rivers, or lakes.

Is hiking the solution to all of life’s woes? Probably not. But what science is showing is that it’s actually a pretty solid candidate for making everyone’s lives a lot better. If you already hike, good for you! If you’d like to start, find yourself a sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes or boots and head to a website like EveryTrail, which can help you find your way to the nearest nature.

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8 Comments on "How hiking helps a boomer’s active lifestyle"

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Beverley @ BrilliantFamilyDog
Guest

“Overall, Americans now spend 93 percent of their time inside a building or vehicle.” This is brilliant news: it leaves the wide open spaces wide and open for the rest of us! 😉

Curt Canada, Founder, ThirtyOneCranberries
Guest

great article, especially hiking,may make it back to the App Trail this year! We’re living healthier!

William Courter, MD
Guest
Excellent article with many good points. One additional suggestion? There are studies that show that most of us are electron deficient – and electrons absorb free radicals, which cause inflammation throughout our body. Therefore, most of us are at increased risk for multiple physical and mental illnesses. One of the solutions is touching the earth with your skin: i.e., walking barefoot. Why the need for direct contact with the earth? Because the earth’s surface, which we never touch (even when walking in the woods with shoes) is teaming with electrons. So, try walking barefoot now and then! The earth’s electrons… Read more »
Sandra Nachlinger
Guest

Great post! I’ve participated in quite a few hikes led by our local senior center and enjoyed each one. They’re rated according to length and difficulty of terrain so there’s something for every level of fitness. I’ve become more and more enthusiastic with each hike.

Denver
Guest

It appears that TripAdvisor has bought EveryTrail and shut it down. The app has disappeared from the Google Play (Android), their Facebook page is “Content Not Found”, and their website is marginally functional.

Carol Kubota
Guest

You should download the AllTrails app. It is available on the iPhone, but I am sure you can get it on an android. It shows you all of the trails around you and you can search others. It provides information including whether it is ” easy , moderate, hard”. It provides the directions, view of a full map, and fotos. I use it all of the time. Happy hiking.

Shenagar
Guest

Hiking is always has been my best adventure for me. I love doing hiking because according to me hiking is such event that can cure any type disease that is curable with exercise. Because in hiking there are many type of exercise dine with in it.

Carol Kubota
Guest

Hiking is my choice of exercise. I live in Phoenix AZ so right now we have to go north to hike because of the heat. It takes only 1 hour to get there, but I try to go every other weekend. I get up everyday in Phoenix at 5:00 am and walk around the park, but it is not as interesting as hiking through the woods.

Has anyone been on a walking tour for vacation?

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