Anxiety and Depression are among the most common ailments. There are many treatments available, but there is one that is overlooked and that is hiking.
I have been a lifelong hiker and I find it to not just be a hobby but also as a form of holistic treatment for anxiety and depression. There are many ways to benefit from hiking.
What are the benefits of hiking?
There are many benefits of hiking. The physical exercise you get from it helps to build stronger muscles and bones, improve your sense of balance, improves your heart health and decreases the risk of certain respiratory problems.
Mental health benefits of hiking include reduced stress, improved anxiety and a much lower risk of depression. Hiking can promote a healthy brain; if a hike is strenuous enough to elevate your heart rate and cause you too sweat it can help the hippocampus grow in size. The hippocampus is the portion of the brain that is associated with verbal memory and learning.
I discussed the hippocampus in relation to anxiety in a previous blog.
A very important benefit of hiking that gets overlooked a lot is the improvement in relational health. It is more fun to hike with someone rather than solo and it could be with a partner or with a group like the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Hiking can vary in the level of difficulty whether you are hiking casually along an easy trail or it could be a difficult hike along a 4,000 foot loop trail. Regardless of difficult it is hiking is a great way to strengthen friendships.
There are interesting facts I found on eurekacamping.com that state that when you spend a lot of time near trees your body takes in more oxygen. The extra oxygen can cause the release of serotonin; a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood by reducing stress and anxiety.
Hikers that camp out report better sleep cycles after returning from a trip. They also fall right to sleep after hiking all day. Sleep was improved even more after disconnecting from electronic devices for a few days.
Do I have a personal story to share?
I have sleep apnea and I was prescribed a CPAP machine. My latest trip was to a campground; at first I thought I couldn’t go because I had sleep apnea. However, I found out that some of the cabins had electricity to power my CPAP machine and I was able to go.
My weekend trip to AMC’s Cold River Camp started immediately after finishing a class I needed to take to receive the total credit hours needed to keep my Wastewater License current. The trip started off with competing with friday afternoon Boston area traffic while driving to New Hampshire. After driving for five hours that included the drive from Conway, NH to Chatham, NH along the very long Route 113.
I arrived at Cold River Camp around 9 pm. I learned right away that the WIFI signal in the main lodge was weak and we all only had enough signal to send and receive a few emails in a short amount of time.
The hike on June 8th was at the relaxing and scenic Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness five miles north of Cold River Camp in the Evans Notch area. There were ten of us all together hiking up the Mud Brook Trail and down the Caribou Trail.
These two trails followed the Morrison Brook as it flowed down the heavily forested Caribou Mountain (2840’). Along the way there were several waterfalls including Kee’s Falls (25 feet).
The woods surrounding us were infested with mosquitos and black flies. I brought with me a mosquito net I wore over my head that gave some protection and insect repellant that didn’t protect too well against them.. Although it is typical for this time of year to deal with mosquitoes and black flies these larger swarms were unusual.
Back in March I was with AMC on a snowshoeing trip and there was 5+ feet of snow on the ground. Combine the melting snow with a wet spring and you have a recipe for mosquitoes. Despite this problem we kept pushing on until we reached the summit.
The Evans Notch area does not have any 4000’ peaks but there are awesome views from the summit of Caribou Mountain.
- The Baldfaces
- Speckled Mountain
- East and West Royce
- Blueberry Ridge
- Mount Washington’s snow-covered peak dominated our view in the west
Stats for Caribou Mountain:
- Calories burned: 2,353
- Avg Pace: 38:12
- Elevation Gain: 1,982’
- Moving Time: 4:31:16
- Total Time: 5:52:34
After we hiked down from the summit of Caribou Mountain my group and I headed back to camp. We hung around and socialized at the main lodge before dinner was served. After dinner, a group of us headed to the campfire and socialized some more while we roasted marshmallows and made smores.
It was a blessing in disguise in my opinion that the wifi signal was weak, because it resulted in more people socializing with other people instead of looking at their phones to constantly check social media.
At night the sky was so clear due to lack of city lights that some of my friends were able to observe Jupiter through a telescope that was on site. It was also so dark outside that I slept very well. Between that and no electronic device use before bed resulted in an increase in melatonin.
Electronics including smart phones and tablets emit short wave blue light that interferes with your body’s ability to produce melatonin. When this happens it becomes more difficult to go to sleep when your body’s natural circadian rhythm is disrupted. I was in the wilderness with no electronics and I felt that my circadian rhythm was restored to its natural state.
Hiking is a great way to spend time outdoors with friends and stay healthy. I am glad I did not let being on a CPAP machine interfere with this fun activity.
What hobbies do you pursue to improve your health? Please like and comment below.