Hiking Your Way To Better Mental Health

We all know that hiking is good for the body. The physical benefits of exercise have been well documented, and the ever-changing challenges of a good hike provide a fun way to get outside and get moving. But what about the mental benefits of hiking?

A 2015 Stanford University-led study revealed that walking in nature significantly lowers your risk for depression.

The study, which compared 90 minute walks in a natural area to 90 minute walks in a high-traffic urban area, showed that walking in nature caused changes to the area of the brain most associated with depression that weren’t found in those walking in urban settings.

Other studies have shown that city-dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of developing mood disorders than those who live in rural areas. Hiking can increase attention spans and problem-solving skills, and lower stress levels.

The benefits of hiking extend beyond what science can prove. Finding a beautiful natural setting can help you think more creatively. Walking in nature can help you feel less lonely and more connected; you may feel more mindful and aware of your surroundings. Hiking can help bring about peace of mind, and a hike with an end goal can add a powerful sense of achievement and accomplishment.

In some cases, simply shutting off the screens, putting your phone away (or hiking out of signal range) can have a profound impact on your state of mind, as hiking tends to force you to live in the present and engage with what’s around you.

Whether you head out on a solo hike for some quality “you” time or grab a close friend for some quality connection, the mental benefits of hiking are broad and undeniable.

Western New York has some breathtaking hiking spots within driving distance. So grab your boots and some water and get out there!

• Letchworth State Park
• Chestnut Ridge Park/The Eternal Flame trail
• The Niagara Gorge/Devil’s Hole trail/Whirlpool trail
• Zoar Valley
• Knox Farm
• Akron Falls
• Tifft Nature Preserve
• Erie County Forest
• More! Ask around.