Hiking Can Make you Happier


We already know that light exercise can provide significant health benefits. But there is a lot of evidence that it can also have psychological benefits as well – particularly if you are doing it outdoors. There is a strong connection between the body and mind. Surrounding yourself in a natural setting can have a profound impact on your psychological well-being and overall brain function, particularly when its paired with physical activity.

I’ve always been and outdoors person.  Ever since I was young, I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors. Being outside and disconnecting myself from technology allowed my brain to relax and function without the distractions of the modern world. Without the constant beeping of my cell phone alerting me to text messages, emails and social media alerts, my brain could actually relax. And what I’ve noticed is the longer I was able to do this, the better I felt. When I would return from hiking, I experienced that my mind was much more focused, and my thought process was a lot clearer. I’ve spoken to other hikers and outdoorsy people who have shared the same experience.

So I was not surprised to learn that there is a lot of data to back this up! Several studies have shown that spending time outdoors can have huge psychological benefits. This is particularly true if you do so in a natural setting and even truer if you are disconnected from technology.

A recent study tested individuals on creativity both before and after a 4-day nature excursion, and found that there was a significant improvement. An article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that the act walking can improve cognitive function.

Walking, preferably in a natural setting, can:

  • Improve creative thinking
  • Improve reasoning and problem solving skills
  • Relieve stress and improve your mental state

Not to mention the countless physical health benefits!

So if you’re feeling stressed, need to solve a problem, or just want to relax – take a walk somewhere. No matter where you live – even if it’s a big city – you can find a natural setting to walk. Go to the park. Take a hike. And turn off your cell phone!

The Benefits of Light Exercise

Everyone knows that exercise is an important part of losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, the amount you actually need may be a lot less than you think. Recent studies have shown that even light exercise can produce significant health benefits. This is great news for those of us who don’t enjoy exercising. Personally, I have a great deal of trouble motivating myself to do any sort of structured exercise, so it was great for me to learn that most of the benefits gained by engaging in strenuous exercise cana also be enjoyed by taking part in lighter exercise, like walking or casually riding your bicycle.

One particular study suggests that simply walking about 30 minutes a day for five days a week can:

  • Lower your blood pressure,
  • Lower your cholesterol,
  • Lower your risk of heart disease
  • Lower your risk of diabetes.
  • Improve your mental health by relieving stress and reducing anxiety.

This data reinforces our philosophy that you don’t need strenuous exercise to be healthy.
People who live in the Mediterranean and Asian cultures that we are studying typically don’t do any organized exercise, but light exercise such as walking are just natural parts of their daily lives. To them, this isn’t work, or effort, or something they feel they need to do – it’s just how they already live. Since I have been walking my dog every day, it has become such a part of my routine that I would feel very strange not to do it. It doesn’t feel like an effort or a chore, it’s just part of my routine.

So, in short:
You don’t have to exercise a great deal to reap the benefits of exercise. Simply spending about 30 minutes a day exercising is good enough to get most of the benefits. While 30 minutes a day won’t help much with actual weight loss, you will get the bulk of the other benefits associated with exercise.
You don’t even have to exercise strenuously. You don’t have to do any sort of exercise that feels like ‘work.’ You don’t have to go to the gym and hop on a treadmill, lift weights, do jumping jacks, push-ups or squats. Don’t get me wrong – there are wonderful health benefits associated with strenuous workouts. The point is: you don’t have to do hardcore workouts to reap many of the benefits.
This type of exercise can be incorporated into our daily routines easily. Walk your dog a little farther. Walk to the corner store instead of driving. When you go shopping, park at the far end of the lot instead of finding the closest spot. Small things like this add up, and you will get your 30 minutes a day in no time.

Just half an hour light exercise is easy to do, easy to fit into your schedule, and provides a wealth of benefits. But one thing I always recommend is to track your results – at least until you establish your routine. I use a free app called Runkeeper on my phone. I simply tap a button every time I go for a walk and it tracks my time and distance and allows me to set goals. Other people recommend the fitbit, a wearable device that you can attach to your wrist that also tracks your progress. You could also simply log your walks with a pen and paper. The point being, when you track your data, you are making yourself accountable.

Learn more about the benefits of light exercise here: