In the first article of this 3-series Getting Away From Hiking, we discussed about The Emotion. In our second article, Getting Away From Hiking, we look at how hiking can positively improve a person’s mental health, and even free a person from despair and depression.
GETTING AWAY FROM HIKING II - THE MENTAL WELL-BEING
As society progresses, many people flock to the cities in search of employment and wealth opportunities. This mass movement of humans puts a strain upon themselves as people compete for space, jobs, seats at restaurants, and even basic necessities. The recent panic buying by many Singaporeans due to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) situation saw people competing for fresh produce, canned foods, instant noodles, paper products, and a host of other basic items.
In an extensive research by Standford University that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA, it was reported that more than 50% of people worldwide live in urban areas. And in this quest to live in a built up area or urbanised area, the study revealed there is an increase level of anxiety, mental illness, including depression due to high human-traffic in decreased spaces competing for a variety of things. It can be concluded that people in highly urbanised settings like Singapore and other major cities experience higher levels of stress and depression. And city residents have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. In a 2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey, 92 per cent of working Singaporeans reported feeling stressed. This is higher than the global average of 84 per cent.
What then can we do about the increased dangers to our mental health? Take a hike!
In the same research by Standford University, it revealed that a brisk walk of 90 minutes in nature made a difference in decreasing our deep thoughts of something that possibly bothered us as compared to a walk in an urbanised environment. An area in our brains that is responsible for a decrease in deep thinking is also associated with mental health and depression.
When you hike, you put yourself in nature’s natural environment, and this has shown positive effects for our mental well-being. In 1996, the term of “eco-therapy” started. Eco-therapy is a formal therapeutic treatment that moves to improve a person’s mental well-being during a hike, and the therapy is targeted to treat people suffering from depression and anxiety.
Research has also shown that a hiker need not engage in a gruelling 60 minute challenge; only a 20 minute hike is sufficient to help lower blood pressure, and even reduce a person’s chances of suffering from strokes, diabetes or heart disease. In addition, a hike can also aid the health of the brain. In going a bit further physically during a hike, a person can increase the heart rate. Chemicals encourage blood vessel development in the brain and help the production of healthy brain cells. And that can have a positive effect in increasing the size of your hippocampus – this is the part of the brain that governs our verbal memory and learning.
In a well-known published 1984 study in the journal Science by environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, he found in people that when they spent time gazing at a garden, it can sometimes speed healing from surgery, infections and other ailments. Various studies also revealed that it takes a mere three to five minutes spent looking at nature - trees, flowers or water – has shown people can reduce anger, anxiety and pain, and to start relaxation.
We must remember that hiking has many benefits to our mental well-being aside from the physical strength and challenge we put ourselves to. Any form of mental illness and depression costs money where treatment is concerned, and many cannot afford it. But in hiking, it is accessible to all, and it is free.
If you missed the first article, GETTING AWAY FROM HIKING I - The Emotion, click here.