BENEFITS OF BEING OUTDOORSWeek 3: Mountains/Hiking
This month I am exploring the use of the outdoors to help improve your mental health. I think we all know how the outdoors can help our physical health, but did you know that being outdoors can also ward off illness and actually make you happier? The best part is, there are certain parts of the outdoors that do specific things with your health. Last month I covered the importance of including water in your outdoor adventures.
This week I am going to explore why the mountains can bring you peace of mind and joy.
Whether you are in the Rocky Mountains, Appalachian Mountains or the Sierra Nevada mountain range, you can benefit from their unique gifts. Not only will the temperature be cooler in the mountains, but the air is crisper and the stillness can bring you peace of mind. In the mountains, time is not important. There are no appointments to rush off to. There isn’t a television or technology distraction. You eat when your stomach grumbles. The sun tells you when to call it a day and you watch the sunset over the ridge of a mountain peak for the sheer joy.
Getting into the mountains can sometimes be stressful due to the increase in traffic, but if you find your favorite place, hidden gem of a road or hiking trail, it really is a great escape. There isn’t road noise, crowds, ringing phones or sometimes even wireless networks. What this means is that your body, mind and soul can actually get back to rest and digest mode. Your soul can actually exhale so the mind can stop racing. You can take time to be alone and listen, smell, touch, and see all the amazing parts of the mountain. The rocks, the tree line, wildflowers, alpine animals, and hidden lakes or even glaciers. Reconnecting your heart, mind and soul with this part of nature has a deep effect on your body, both physically and mentally.
Mountain pastures can provide you with beautiful flowers and a place for peace and relaxation while watching the breeze blow through the meadow flowers. Catch site of a butterfly or even a hummingbird as they try and gather nectar from the mountain flowers. Looking over the vastness of the mountain panorama can give you some perspective on what problems or issues you have been facing and how to relax in spite of the stress.
Remote trails, hikes, campsites or lakes are perfect solutions for those with burnout. Mountain trails and pastures are quiet places that are perfect for reflecting, allowing you to focus inward. Your senses are heightened and you are more aware of the surroundings and rhythm of nature. Too much stress and occupational overload will lead to physical and mental exhaustion. Our fast paced lives have proven to make us sicker and sicker. Being able to step back and get away from it all will help you find your inner peace and harmony. The coolness of the mountain air will allow for better sleep. Slowing down your racing mind by just sitting and “being” with rocky trails or star gazing will also allow for better sleep. Eating more natural and less processed foods will also slow your heart rate and increase your happy hormones in your body so you can be more calm and less frazzled.
There are many retreats who purposefully choose mountain locations for their yoga, mindfulness or meditation work. Some yoga asanas are practiced within a meadow of fragrant flowers while others are done on huge pieces of granite carved from the earth. Sitting on a piece of earth or rock while chanting a mantra and hearing it echo can fill your soul with love and hope. Sunrise yoga will help you greet the day with joy and promise as you see how life and color comes alive as the sun comes over the horizon and the rays touch your skin. Meditating next to a mountain lake or stream will allow you to witness the clear, pristine waters and how the sun sparkles when it hits it. Listening to the breeze in the trees or the insects and birds as they go about their day will put into perspective how small your problems really are. Doing a sunset hike and meditation to end your day is another way to bring peace and harmony to your body, mind and soul. Watching as the sun goes down over the mountain peak and how it brings silence, peace and quiet to your day. Taking in the last bit of color in the sky and on the clouds allows you to close out your day with serenity and peace.
Activities in the mountains can also bring you joy; rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking or trail running are all great options for you to enjoy the perks of the mountains while still getting in some great workouts. You will physically get a workout, but your mind is also able to restore attention, creativity and productivity the more you spend outdoors. You actually burn more calories while working out in nature versus within a gym. The body works hard to balance the C02 levels and consume oxygen, which both require more energy and a higher calorie burn. While outdoors your body and mind need to adapt to the change in terrain, which not only makes it fun, but you enjoy the mental stimulation as well as the physical stimulation.
As Hippocrates, Father of Western Medicine stated, “Nature itself is the best physician.” He is correct and I think he would be laughing right now at how many physicians are prescribing dosages of nature instead of pharmaceuticals. There have been many studies done on the benefits of outdoors on mental health. In 2015 Science Direct published a study showcasing the difference of a group of people walking in an urban location versus walking in a wooded area. The report showed those who walked in a wooded area reported a better emotional state than those who walked in the urban area. Walking in either is great, especially if you live in a more urban area, but if you can, try and schedule regular walks near a park with trees or a city park with a lake as these green areas will better boost your mood and happy hormones.
Other studies have shown how the Japanese practice of “Forest Bathing” has helped their culture for centuries keep their stress, anxiety and depression levels low. Walking in a wooded green environment will lower your cortisol levels, the stress hormone that is important for daily living; however, if elevated for too long it can cause a variety of health problems, including sleep disorders, concentration and memory issues, depression and anxiety. All of these can then lead to heart issues, obesity and diabetes. If all it takes is some time in the woods to decrease your likelihood of the above disorders, wouldn’t you do it?
Stay safe when going out into the woods in your area. Know where to go by asking friends or find an app that can help you along. I use AllTrails https://www.alltrails.com/
and love that they show you the closest hike to you as well as reviews from others who have been on the hike as well as, the directions and map of the trail.
Be prepared when going on your hike by bringing proper gear for the weather; hat, raincoat, sunscreen and plenty of water, along with a snack in case you do take longer on the trail.
Always check in with your loved one’s if you are going solo. Let someone know which trail you will be on and when you plan to check back in with them after your hike.
The more you can get outside and create an adventure, the better you will feel, mentally, physically and emotionally. You will notice a boost in your mood and energy levels immediately and the more you get out you will gradually see the benefits to other parts of your health and wellness too. One last thing, while you are out in nature more, make it a pact with yourself to help keep it clean. Pack in/Packout your trash and if possible, pick up other’s trash too. Pay it forward with your outdoor preservation.