We are in luck living in our great city of Louisville. We are fortunate to have an abundance of places to get out and play, relax, and rewire our brains. Yes I said it! Hiking can actually change our brain chemistry for the better. Before I dive into that, I want to share some of my personal favorite places to get my forest bathing on. My absolute favorite is the Red River Gorge in Slade, KY. However, it takes about 2 hours to get there (totally worth the drive if time permits). Some closer parks include Bernheim Forest, the Parklands, or Jefferson Memorial.
Benefits of hiking include a mood boost, decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression, decreased ruminating and negative thoughts, lowered risk of heart disease, improved blood pressure and blood sugar levels, builds muscle and strengthens the core, weight loss, slows the loss of bone density, improves balance, and much more.
Now to the how and why hiking helps reduce ruminating negative thoughts. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that spending time in nature reduced negative obsessive thoughts by a significant margin. This study compared the reported ruminating thoughts as well as the blood flow to the subgenera prefrontal cortex in those that walked in either an urban or natural environment.
Our subgenual prefrontal cortex is active when we are sad, experiencing behavioral withdrawal, and during ruminating. One way to discover activity in certain areas of the brain is to measure the blood flow. The more blood flow the more activity. The study group that walked in nature reported less ruminating thoughts and had less cerebral blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex than the group who walked in the urban setting. Again, less blood flowing to that region mean less activity , which means less rumination!
Another interesting aspect worth noting is our brain’s ability to go into alpha wave mode when we are in nature. The alpha brain wave correlates with rest, relaxation, and restoration. We think it is because the brain is matching nature’s frequency!
I hope this blog has you inspired to get out in nature and receive the abundance of benefits that are out there waiting for you! Be sure to swing by the cave to make sure you can breathe her all in!
Gregory N. Bratmana, , , Gretchen C. Dailyb, Benjamin J. Levyc, James J. GrossdVALIDHTML
a Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford University, 473 Via Ortega, Suite 226, Stanford, CA 94305, United States
b Center for Conservation Biology (Department of Biology) and Woods Institute for the Environment, Jerry Yang & Akiko Yamazaki Environment & Energy Building – MC 4205, Stanford University, 473 Via Ortega, Stanford, CA 94305, United States
c Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Francisco, 2130 Fulton Street, San Francisco, CA 94117, United States
d Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, United States
Received 24 October 2014, Revised 21 January 2015, Accepted 1 February 2015, Available online 3 March 2015