Study: Hiking Can Improve Your Well-Being

A recent study sought to identify the mental, emotional, and social well-being benefits from participating in group walks in nature. And the results tend to suggest that hiking has more benefits for your health than you could have ever guessed.

Published in the September issue of Ecopsychology, the findings were revealed after 70,000 regular participants in England’s Walking for Health program have been evaluated by researchers from University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England.

They found that nature walk were associated with significantly less depression in addition to mitigating the downside effects of stressful life events and perceived stress.

In the researcher’s own words: “Group walks in nature were associated with significantly lower depression, perceived stress, and negative affect, as well as enhanced positive affect and mental well-being, both before and after controlling for covariates. There were no group differences on social support. In addition, nature-based group walks appear to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress and negative affect while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being”.

Sara Warber, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and senior author of the study, said that the large sample was a defining factor.

“We observed behaviors of a large group, in which some chose to walk and some chose not to, instead of us telling them what to do,” she said. “After 13 weeks, those who walked at least once a week experienced positive emotions and less stress.”

Warber and co-author Kate Irvine recommend walking outside in nature at least three times a week to experience benefits. Short, frequent jaunts are more beneficial than long, occasional walks.

“Stress isn’t ever going to go away, so it is important to have a way to cope with it,” said Warber. “Walking in nature is a coping mechanism—the benefits aren’t just physical.”

Others will argue the validity of these findings but “While it’s true we must remember that correlation does not prove causation, the more we look for evidence that positive affect/emotion and mood affect us physically in positive ways, the more we find. Underlying mechanisms such as neurotransmitter continue to mystify us, but statistically speaking the evidence is mounting and this article/study is yet another voice for the value proposition of Nature.” says Brett M. Powell. At the 2014 Tanglewood Nature Center and Museum Annual Meeting, the speaker shared anecdotal as well as meta-analytical evidence that the link between mind and body is increasingly well established and that, as E. O. Wilson postulates, nature is appreciated at an intrinsic level.

What about you? Are you sympathetic to the “idea, belief and hope” that hiking is good for your mind and mood. Join the conversation!

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