How Hiking Boosts Brain Power

How Hiking Boosts Brain Power

Hiking becomes the trending outdoor workout that brings a lot of benefits. Hiking builds body strength and multiple components of fitness simultaneously. The physical improvements gained by hiking are obvious, but do hiking make changes in our brain?

Hiking reduces negative thoughts and improve mental well-being

Hikers find contentment and peace of mind by escaping from the hectic urban life. Embrace of the nature is found to reduce rumination and improve mental well-being in the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Negative thoughts and self-relational emotions engulf us most of the time in the hustle and bustle of city life.  This repetitive and maladaptive attention focused on one’s distress is associated with increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC) which eventually will leads to depression and other mental illness. This study shows that a 90-min of hiking in nature decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the sgPFC as compared with walking in urban setting. Hiking allows us to indulge in the beauty of nature and get rid of obsessive thoughts in the calm surrounding.

Hiking encourages creative problem solving

Psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Straye discovered that hiking boosts creativity and problem solving skills in their research. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that the nature has specific restorative power on the depleted or overused prefrontal cortex-mediated executive attentional system.  Prefrontal cortex is the brain region that involved in higher-order cognitive functions including critical thinking, selective attention, multi-tasking and problem solving. Constant demand of workload and stressful lifestyle distract our attention and apply heavy burden on our prefrontal cortex and cause us become cognitively fatigued. Therefore, we always cannot stay focus and more difficult to generate new and interesting ideas when in stressful situation. Atchley and Straye conducted experiment with the participants immerse in the wilderness with the absent of technology devices for four days which results in significant enhancements in creative problem solving. The prefrontal cortex is less active and have the time to rejuvenate when people are immersed in natural environment and disconnected from electronic gadgets. This relaxation enables discovering of flexible ways of thinking that enhance creativity and wider the range of cognitive resources can bear in solving complex problems.

Hiking Enhances memory

Hiking is an excellent aerobic exercise which burns around 400–700 calories per hour. A study conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia stated that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume of the brain which associated with spatial and episodic memories in women aged 70-80 years. Hippocampus is a major part of brain that plays important role in memory consolidation. Hiking improves brain structure and function, thus prevents cognitive decline like memory loss due to aging. Expansion of hippocampal volume improves the efficiency of neural networks that support memory processes. Hiking also builds cardiovascular health, where you work out your brain in the meantime as your heart. Thomas Crook, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and memory researcher stated that cardiovascular health is crucial in maintaining and enhances learning and memory. A 30-minute hiking session can pump extra blood to the brain while delivering oxygen and nutrients needed for maximum cognitive performances.


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