Hiking For Happiness

The benefits of hiking go far beyond the purpose of exercising the body. Hiking can offer a mind/body/nature connection with many mental health benefits as well. I don’t need scientific studies to tell me this–I know that after a hike I am a happier person. I brag that I’m a more patient father, more caring husband, and a less regretful eater after I’ve been on a hike. Sometimes I hike simply to feel better and eat more–of the good stuff of course!.

Guilt-free snacks aside, hiking can relieve or reduce depression. Hiking will give you better quality sleep, and improved stress management, mental acuity, brain elasticity, positive attitudes, enhanced creativity and critical thinking abilities. Hiking can just make you happier.

Hiking: Way Better Than Simple Meditation

I’ve learned over the years that many of the benefits of hiking are similar to those that can come from positive meditation. This is great for me, because I hate meditating, or at least I strongly dislike meditation. Just like golf ruins a fine walk, meditation only serves to ruin a good nap. Meditation is good–I get that. I just want the benefits without having to sit still.

Meditation derives from an ancient practice of calming and balancing the brain. Traditional mediation is a quiet practice of sitting and using measured breathing techniques–but just writing about the process distresses me. We already sit too much. Wonderfully, the desired calming and balancing effect of meditation can also be achieved through various acts of activity and movement such as hiking. Yaaay!

Hiking Is Good For Your Brain

This, I believe, is how it works: hiking involves a combination of cross pattern movements of arms and legs on the sagittal plane that divides the right and left halves of the body. This fluid motion stimulates specific brain activity managed by the corpus callosum, a broad band of nerve fibers joining the two hemispheres of the brain. Research indicates that exercising the corpus callosum not only balances brain function, it may increase brain elasticity which is helpful in all of the daily tasks we face at work and at home. Additionally, the health and function of the corpus callosum is related to positive mental health outcomes and reduced effects of aging. When the brain is balanced, a person’s state of being is also balanced.

No Thrashing Down The Trail

To coax the meditational benefits from hiking, you must be mindful in your hiking practice. It’s not as simple as just thrashing off down a trail. If you want to realize the maximum meditative effects of hiking, you must set your mind to it. Pick a portion of the trail that will demand your attention but will not require all of your concentration to navigate. Settle into a groove ahead or behind the group or your hiking partner. Focus on your breathing and foot placement, while imagining a sense of floating along the ground. Disappearing into the movement is key. A meditative state will come and go. And so it should–there is a level of alertness that is always required to stay safe. This is not about zoning out. It is all about zoning in. Hiking in non-technical terrain, requiring lower average heart rates but for longer durations offers a wonderful opportunity to access the meaningful benefits of meditation in an active rather than a passive state.

Our culture suggests we can’t make time for every desired activity. I want the biggest health reward for the activities I choose. I choose hiking because I can be assured that it covers a variety of health benefits while providing many valuable components of meditation. There’s no need for a Guru. Just get your hiking shoes, some reliable outdoor clothing, and get out there!!