In March, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will reach Ceres after a
“Walk it off.” Seriously. There’s finally scientific evidence to back up the stress-releasing activities of hiking, walking, or just being out in nature can do a whole lot of good for our emotions.
Researchers at the University of Michigan, discovered that nature walks are associated with many mental health benefits including decreased depression, improved well-being, mental health, and lower perceived stress. What’s more is that the effects on mood seemed even more helpful for people who have recently experienced emotional trauma such as a loss, illness, or divorce. The study included 1,991 people who were part of England’s Walking for Health program and compared people who did and did not participate in nature walks.
It was stated in the abstract that the walks also “appear to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress and negative affect while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being”. A 2013 British study found that just walking in green spaces may bring the brain into a state of meditation.
How it works.
Studies of MRI to measure brain activity found that when participants viewed nature scenes, the anterior insular cortex (the activity center of human empathy), lit up compared to images of urban scenes, the amygdala located deep in the anterior inferior temporal lobe of the brain (associated with fear and anxiety) was triggered.
Is a hormone that is released into the blood during various types of touching; cuddling, hugging, kissing, and so on. Oxytocin stimulates muscle contractions and increases heart rate producing emotional feeling associated with love, peace, nurturing, and security. Hiking and viewing nature are catalysts for such a release, and who doesn’t need to feel loved? Especially when you’re in the dumps.
Are released by the pituitary gland, and makes you feel stimulated, blocking out feelings of pain, allowing one to “get over” what they may be experiencing in their life at the time.
Is a pleasure chemical and is often associated with orgasms. Hiking stimulates dopamine production, not exactly providing you the big “O”, but definitely getting some of the happy feels shooting through your system instead of the “poor me” vibes.
A chemical responsible for happiness, restful sleep, and a healthy appetite. Serotonin works with endorphins to make walking and hiking a pleasurable activity. It also encourages more serotonin and brings more energy and clearer thinking, pushing those depressive, confusing thoughts aside.
So, all in all, the activity of hiking isn’t just about the exercise, but the visual cues and hormone release that makes different areas of our brains light up, triggering good emotions and lowering stress, reducing depression, and giving us an overall feeling well-being, thus helping relieve a depressive state.