Take a Hike! (And Feel Better for It)

Take a Hike! (And Feel Better for It)

Walking in the great outdoors has more than just physical benefits.

Here are five of the top ways walking in nature will improve your mental health.

1. You’ll feel more confident

Even just five minutes of outdoor exercise in a natural setting can improve your self-esteem and mood, found researchers at Green Exercise Researchers Group at the University of Essex in England. If you can make it to the beach on the weekend, exercising near water showed an even greater boost.

2. You’re less likely to be depressed

Getting outdoors for a few minutes will stimulate your body’s production of vitamin D, aka the “sunshine vitamin”. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with depression. It’s especially important for the elderly to get outdoors since they are at higher risk for both vitamin D deficiencies and depression. Exposure to light is also a mood booster. Light therapy has been used to treat mild depression in those who experience seasonal affective disorder.

This open enrollment, make sure your plan includes Keck Medicine of USC. KeckMedicine.org/insurance

3. You’ll sleep better

“Aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling or hiking, can improve the quality of your nighttime sleep, especially when done on a regular basis. Exercise may reduce their risk for developing troublesome sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome,” says Raj Dasgupta, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and a pulmonologist at the USC Sleep Disorders Center. “It can also be especially helpful if you are able to exercise outdoors to let your body absorb natural sunlight during the daytime hours to help with your circadian rhythm.”

Instead of eating your lunch at your desk, get outside and take a short stroll. Chances are you’ll be able to sleep better at night. Researchers at Green Exercise Research Group found that those who walked 1.8 kilometers (about 1.1 miles) at lunchtime in a natural setting had more restorative sleep than those who walked in an urban setting. Of course, any walking is better than no walking. It’s still better for your health to walk around the block or even the floor of your office than it is to sit at your desk.

4. You’ll improve your attention span

Having trouble focusing on a tough task at work? Take a walk in the nearest park. One study found exercising in nature improved the ability to concentrate in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

5. You’ll feel more energized

Walk outdoors and chances are you’ll feel reinvigorated, found an analysis of data from 11 trials involving more than 800 adults. You’ll also feel less angry, tense and depressed.

Not convinced? Picture yourself walking on a treadmill in a crowded gym. Now picture yourself taking a brisk walk with the wind at your back and the sun on your face. Which would you rather make time for?

If you’re in the Southern California area and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/ to schedule an appointment.

by Anne Fritz