Some of the most exciting research happening right now pertains to the connection between hiking and mental health. One study found that a 90-minute walk in a natural setting can reduce rumination, which refers to repetitive, negative self-talk. A control group walking for the same length of time through an urban setting failed to show reduced rumination after their walk. Hiking is one of the best forms of physical activity because it places you in a natural setting while delivering many added health benefits, including:
- Reduced risk of hypertension, heart disease, and other diseases
- Enhanced bone density and muscle tone
- Reduced risk of depression
- Effective weight management
Many people also hike for stress relief. One of the best ways to spend quality time with someone special is to get them out on a quiet trail surrounded by beautiful scenery. Many artists, writers, and other creative people also find that they come up with some of their best ideas when they spend time in nature.
Whether those health benefits convince you to spend some time hiking this summer or not, there is one reason that everyone should get out there and start moving: improved sleep quality. The quality and amount of sleep that you receive directly impacts your health, your energy level, your ability to focus, and your ability to handle stress. That means that going for a summer hike could do more for your body and mind than help you lose a few pounds.
Exercise for Insomnia & Other Sleep Improvements
Hiking does more than get you out into the wild for an infusion of vitamin D and a healthy dose of mental clarity. It’s an effective form of exercise that comes with cardiovascular and muscle-building benefits. While it takes a significant output of energy to make it through a challenging hike, you’re likely to feel even more energetic when you finish. You should also notice improved energy levels between hikes when you’re working out on a routine basis.
According to some compelling studies released within the past 10 years, exercise that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time can combat insomnia almost as well as sleeping pills. It’s also an effective way to prevent insomnia from occurring in the first place. Some studies have found that exercise is more effective when performed outdoors because the exposure to daylight helps keep the internal clock in rhythm.
Cardiovascular exercise can also help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. These conditions can have a negative impact on your quality of life, and getting out for a relaxing hike is better for your body and mind than popping a sleeping pill.
DIY Hiking Therapy
Wilderness camps that include hiking and camping are among the most effective treatment programs for at-risk youth. Many professionals spend time at hiking therapy camps or wilderness programs because they can improve their lives with the mental benefits of hiking and spending time in nature. The good news is that you can enjoy those benefits without signing up for a program and spending your summer lost in the wilderness.
Start by adjusting your mindset to reframe how you think about fitness. Instead of thinking of it as a punishment or a sacrifice that you must make, think about exercise for sleep benefits. If sleep deprivation is disrupting your daily life, start thinking in terms of exercise for insomnia. You don’t have to exercise aggressively every day. You just want to spend more time outdoors for the sleep benefits.
Do some research to find the best hiking spots in your local area, and commit to going for a hike at least one day per week this summer. Pay attention to the immediate benefits, and get ready for a great night of sleep. If you find that your hike improves your sleep significantly, you may want to become an avid hiker year-round. You may also want to keep your eye open for new research exploring additional benefits to hiking.