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A person walking with a dog

Take a Hike!  Boost Your Mood!

A hiker at a mountain lake

Research shows that exercise has multiple benefits including improved reports of happiness and better health. 

It’s easy to get bogged down taking care of all the things in your world that need your care. Your job, your house, your laundry, your parents and kids you have them. We are all under increased pressure to meet deadlines and get work done. This can block us from regular exercise and decreased our happiness. Happiness is good for us! “Happy people are more creative, solve problems faster, and tend to be more mentally alert.” (“Happy Brain, Happy Life – Psychology Today”)

Experiencing nature and exercising work together to increase our happiness and positive outlook.

1.      Happiness can be found in nature

At the age of 45, finding myself overweight and out of shape from a sedentary lifestyle and office job, I began walking in local parks and along the waterfront in downtown Portland, Oregon. When I moved to San Diego a year later, I began walking at the beach.  In those beautiful locations, walking early in the morning renewed and refreshed me.  One day when I was feeling a little down in the dumps, I went on a hike and determined I wouldn’t stop until I felt happy.  It only took about an hour.  My experience had shown me that nature and walking naturally made me happy.

David Strayer a researcher at the University of Utah has said, “People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several 100 years—from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers.” (“This is Your Brain on Nature: High-Quality Nature …”) “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature.” (“We Know Nature Makes Us Happier. Now … – YES! Magazine”)

In an experiment held in Japan, the authors reported “Participants experienced less negative mood states such as tension-anxiety, anger-hostility, fatigue, and confusion and felt more comfortable, natural, soothed, and refreshed after forest walking compared with those after the urban walking.” (“Influence of Forest Therapy on Cardiovascular Relaxation …”)  

…experiencing nature and exercising work together to increase our happiness and positive outlook.

In “The Nature Fix”, a book by Florence Williams, she wrote that it “demonstrates that our connection to nature is much more important to our cognition than we think and that even small amounts of exposure to the living world can improve our creativity and enhance our mood.” (“What Happens When You Spend Just 5 Minutes in Nature …”) In the process of writing the book she traveled to Korea to meet the rangers who administer “forest healing programs,” to the green hills of Scotland and its “ecotherapeutic” approach to caring for the mentally ill, to a river trip in Idaho with Iraqi vets suffering from PTSD, to the West Virginia mountains where she discovers how being outside helps children with ADHD. 

These people much smarter that me, have been able to prove, what I only experienced.  Nature makes us happier.

2.      Hiking or walking, in nature, or not

In the paragraph above we found proof that walking in nature makes us happier that walking in urban areas. Nature can be a simple as walking at a park. It might not be as exciting to walk laps around a park so trying walking back and forth to the park! Does urban walking make us happier all by itself? Research shows that exercise has multiple benefits including improved reports of happiness and better health. (Richards J, Jiang X, Kelly P, Chau J, Bauman A, Ding D. Don’t worry, be happy: cross-sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 European countries. BMC Public Health. 2015;15:53. doi:10.1186/s12889-015-1391-4.)

Among the chemicals released during physical activities are:

Endorphins – increases feeling of happiness, relieves pain and increases feeling of relaxation

Serotonin – Can be a mood stabilizer and is believed to increase feeling of well-being and happiness

Dopamine – A mood boosting neurotransmitter, by some called the Happy Hormone.

3.      Walking on City Streets or Hiking in Nature can boost your happiness.

I love it when science backs up my experience! Here are quotes from those who experienced nature and came to the same conclusions long before I did!

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.” —John Muir

“But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called—called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.” —Jack London

“If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” —Vincent van Gogh

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” — Soren Kierkegaard

Summary

Nature makes us happier, exercise, even slow walking, makes us happier. Together they are nature’s way of making us happy. Take a Hike!  I mean that in the best possible way.

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