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How Hiking helps to fight depression




Depression, an under-stated mental problem, for few just an individual way of seeking attention or running from day-to-day problems. As per WHO report of December 2019, near to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year where, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Globally, more than 264 million individuals of all ages suffer from depression. Depression is not same as common mood swings which is a short-lived emotional response to everyday life challenges. When a person suffers the same for longer duration with moderate or severe intensity, depression might become a serious health condition. Barriers to effective care include absence of resources, lack of trained health-care professionals, denial of individual to get diagnosed, ignorance from family member and social stigma related with mental disorders. Hiking is often very effective for relieving anxiety and depression and is a treatment that’s accessible to everyone regardless of location or income tax bracket. There are a variety of reasons, why one should start hiking to feel better. Some are outlined below:

     1. HIKING PROMOTES BRAIN HEALTH

Anxiety and depression many times cause people to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of enjoying life and living the moment, people battling with depression or anxiety become stuck concentrating on the small challenges, failures, frustrations and disappointments that happen on a daily basis.

When someone does any kind of physical activity, their body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins act as analgesics which interact with the receptors in your brain and reduces the perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of pain medicines or morphine. However, unlike those medicines, endorphins do not lead to addiction or dependence. Furthermore, it lowers blood pressure, strengthens heart, improves sleep, gain bigger perspective, reduces weight, and makes you look fit and healthy.




     2. HIKING IN NATURE REDUCES NEGATIVE FEELINGS

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has demonstrated a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. As per 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy folks after they walked for 90 minutes in nature, which took place in a grassland near Stanford University and found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

When people are depressed or experiencing high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts. Digging a bit deeper, it appears that interacting with nature offers therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds, breezy air and peace can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body's fight-or-flight response. "Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so thoughts become less filled with worry and infills calmness."

     3. HIKING HELPS YOU TO BUILD RESILIENCE AND BOOST PROBLEM SOLVING

According to one of the studies, creative problem solving can be improved by disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. In this study, participants hiked while backpacking in nature for approximately four days while they were prohibited from using technology. They were asked to perform tasks requiring creativity and complex problem solving. They found that those immersed in the hiking excursions had increased performance on problem-solving tasks by 50 percent.

Furthermore, if you hike for long enough, you’ll surely experience a tough time on the trail. Your feet may blister, you may get lost, or you may find that the trail you chose was a bit too strenuous. But chances are, you’ll find some way to tough out the hike, and overcome these challenges. This will help body to build endurance, resilience and boost your self-confidence. Furthermore, it also reduces mental fatigue, relaxes minds, and helps us to think creatively.

Nowadays doctors are now aware that people who spend time in nature enjoy less stress and better physical health. They are prescribing “take a walk-in nature” or recommending “ecotherapy” to reduce anxiety, improve stress levels, and to curb depression.

So how do to plan for your next hiking? Check out local hiking trails, start with easier trails and work your way up to a safe and comfortable distance. Ensure you wear sturdy hiking shoes that are appropriate for the terrain. Do check our blog, “How to prepare for first Hike”. You may consider using trekking poles, which reduce stress on your knees, increase your speed, and improve your stability. Layer clothing as necessary for the weather and wear breathable clothes such as silk, polypropylene, wool, and fleece to reduce sweat and stay warm. Use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to protect you from the sun. Stay hydrated and have fun!

Happy Hiking!!!