A study conducted by scientists in Austria has found that hiking can significantly improve mental health. Over a six-month period, 345 participants who went on a weekly two-hour hike program experienced improved mood, lower perceived stress levels, and better sleep quality. Spending time in nature can reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood, improve sleep, and increase social interaction. Beginners are advised to start small, choose trails that suit their fitness level, dress appropriately for weather, stay hydrated, and bring a fully charged phone with them. Hiking can be a safe and beneficial activity for most people with mental health conditions.
New Study Shows Hiking Can Improve Mental Health
Hiking is an activity that involves walking in natural environments such as hills, mountains, or forests. Many people venture out into the wilderness to hike for a number of reasons, one of which is to experience the mental health benefits of hiking. A new study has now proven that hiking can indeed improve mental health.
The research, conducted by scientists in Austria, studied 345 participants who went on a six-month hiking program. The study measured the participants’ perceived stress levels, mood, and sleep quality both before and after the hiking program. The participants hiked weekly as part of the program, with each hike lasting around two hours.
The results indicated that regular hiking can positively impact mental health. All three indicators of mood, perceived stress, and quality of sleep showed significant improvement after the hiking program. The research team concluded that hiking should be recommended as a form of health promotion activity.
How Hiking Affects Mental Health
Spending time in nature can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health. Hiking, in particular, has been shown to help in several ways:
- Reducing stress: Being out in nature can help people to unwind and relax, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Boosting mood: Walking in natural surroundings promotes the release of endorphins – the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. This can help to boost mood and increase feelings of happiness.
- Improving sleep: Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality. Hiking, in particular, can be beneficial for those who struggle to sleep due to anxiety and other mental health issues.
- Increasing social interaction: Hiking can be a social activity that promotes interaction and connection with others. This can help individuals who may feel isolated or lonely improve their mental health.
Tips for Hiking
If you’re interested in trying hiking for its mental health benefits, here are some tips:
- Start small: Begin with shorter, easier hikes and gradually work your way up to more challenging terrain.
- Choose a trail that suits your fitness level: Check the elevation gain and distance before embarking on hikes. Choose trails that suit your fitness level.
- Wear appropriate clothing: Dress for the weather and bring protective gear like hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
- Stay hydrated: Bring water and snacks to keep you going as required for the duration of the hike.
- Be safe: Let someone know you’re hiking and where you’re going. Bring a map and a fully charged phone.
Here are some frequently asked questions about hiking and its impact on mental health:
Is hiking better than other forms of exercise for mental health?
While any form of exercise can have benefits for mental health, hiking may be particularly effective due to the combination of physical activity and immersion in nature.
Do I need to hike for long periods to see mental health benefits?
No, even short hikes can have an impact on mental health. As little as 20 minutes in nature can have benefits for mood and stress levels.
Is hiking safe if I have a mental health condition?
If you have concerns about your ability to hike safely, it’s best to discuss with your healthcare provider. In most cases, hiking can be a safe and beneficial activity for those with mental health conditions, but it’s important to exercise caution and take proper precautions.