While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body, and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain… for the better! Whether you’re hiking for exercise or you just want to get out and see the scenery throughout the park. Hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most relaxing ways to spend time in the area.
1. Eliminates Negative Thoughts
Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. When you’re consumed by negative thoughts and the stress of everyday life, it can take the enjoyment out of life in general. A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.
2. Disconnects You from Technology and Increases Creativity
Many of you who love hiking in the Smokies also really enjoy disconnecting from technology. Many people enjoy leaving their smartphones, computers and technology behind for at least a few hours while you spend time in nature. In a recent study by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. These researchers came to the conclusion that technology is actually quite disruptive and taxing to our cognitive functions because our devices are so demanding throughout the day. A nice long hike, sans technology, can reduce mental fatigue, soothe the mind, and boost creative thinking.
3. Improves ADHD in Children
A study has shown that hiking can help anyone who has difficulty paying attention or experiencing impulsive behavior. This is especially true for children with ADHD or children experiencing signs and symptoms of ADHD. While raising children who have ADHD can be difficult for parents, the usual solution — opting for prescription medication — may be doing more harm than good, particularly when natural solutions can work just as well. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduces symptoms significantly. The results of this study suggest nature exposure can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention and/or exhibits impulsive behaviour.
4. Exercise Boosts Brainpower
Of course, exercise has many benefits and the great thing about Smoky Mountain hiking is that you barely even notice you’re getting exercise! Since you love spending time in the national park, the exercise doesn’t even phase you – you’re just enjoying time in nature!
Hiking is an excellent way to burn between 400–700 calories per hour, depending on your size and the hike difficulty, and it is easier on the joints than other activities like running. It has also been proven that people who exercise outside are more likely to keep at it and stick to their programs, making hiking an excellent choice for those wishing to become more active on a regular basis.
According to a study by the University of British Columbia, aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume which is the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory especially in women over age 70. Hiking can improve a variety of brain functions, including memory loss and anxiety as well as increase self-esteem and release endorphins.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the best place to start hiking! Plus, doesn’t hiking sound better than visiting a doctor for some of these conditions? There are over 800 square miles of hiking trails in the national park and there’s a hiking trail that’s perfect for everyone.
How Can You Begin Hiking?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the best place to start hiking! Luckily, hiking is one of the easiest and least expensive sports to get involved in, and it can have great benefits for the whole family, including grandma! Start out small and test your abilities. Do what works for you; if that means just walking through trails in a park, that’s fine. Any exercise outdoors is better than none. Plus, doesn’t hiking sound better than visiting a doctor for some of these conditions? There are over 800 square miles of hiking trails in the national park and there’s a hiking trail that’s perfect for everyone.
Make sure you have some good sturdy hiking shoes, a hat, and a water bottle, and be sure to layer your clothing so you can take things on or off easily as you warm up and cool down. You may want to consider using trekking poles as well, which can increase your speed and take some of the pressure off your knees. Now go take a hike!