Hiking is more than taking a walk in the woods. Firstly, hiking can take place in a number of climates and environments, from blustering snowy mountaintops to blistering vacant deserts. Hiking goes up and hiking comes back down. Sometimes hiking goes straight onward for miles and miles. Secondly, hiking is not the same as walking. Hiking uses many of the same mechanics as walking but in different ways. The joints, the heart, the muscles in the legs, and arguably the mind, work in a unique way when they are hiking rather than just taking a walk.
Hikes can be vigorous and challenging, involving rugged terrain, ropes, ladders, rock climbing, sliding, and endurance. Walking on flat, unchallenging surfaces poses no opportunity for work on the body, yet many opportunities for injury. Rocks, dirt, sticks, snow, leaves, puddles, mud, boulders, water- at every turn, hiking is challenging the brain and the body- using 28% more energy than walking on pavement, according to a study by the University of Michigan.
Other studies have found that not all hiking is created equal. The mental health benefits of hiking vary depending on the environment. Stanford conducted a study that compared the mental health benefits of walking in an urban area to walking in a natural, green area. Participants who walked in natural areas saw a decrease in neural activity, specifically in the subgenual prefrontal cortex which is where our concentration on negative emotions lives. Spending time in nature greatly benefits mental health, just by being near a green area in an otherwise urban environment.
Critical thinking and critical movement make hiking the ultimate mind body workout. Hiking requires focus, attention, planning, and awareness. With an element of survival and an element of mindfulness, hiking transcends the mind body experience into a mind, body, and spirit experience. The connection between man’s body and nature is evolutionary. We grew out of nature- learning from it, adapting to it, being strengthened by it. When we spend time in nature, pushing our bodies, we return our minds to an evolutionary state, to the roots of our human form. Research has found that time spent in nature, in the vast open landscapes free from the concrete jungle of modern society, creates calm in the mind, increases self-esteem, enhances mindfulness, and reduces stress. Like returning to the womb of our physical form, we work in a harmony internal to our existence and external to our natural world.
Located in the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest, Tree House Recovery uses the natural landscape and generous hiking opportunities surrounding Portland as part of the addiction treatment process. A program for men, we are teaching how to find freedom from addiction through sustainable change. For information, call: (503) 850-2474