Everyone knows hiking is good for your physical health, but did you know it is also great for your brain health too? In fact, all physical activity is good for the brain, but there are even more cognitive benefits to experience when combining nature and physical activity.
A 2018 Neurology Clinical Study reviewed exercise for cognitive health in aging through randomized controlled trials. In the review it states “Physical exercise can promote cognitive brain health (defined as the ability to remember, learn, plan, concentrate, and maintain a clear, active mind) and counteract many effects of cognitive aging.”
Dr. Sarah C. McEwen, a cognitive psychologist and senior research scientist at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center explains, “after age 40, we lose 1 percent of our brain matter.” McEwen supports the statement that working out also prevents the loss of total brain volume that happens as we age by saying “Physical exercise can grow and promote gray matter retention and thickness in important regions of the brain.”
The reason hiking is even more beneficial when it comes to physical activity and your brain health is that it activates the hippocampus region of your brain. The hippocampus is defined by the National Institutes of Health as a “complex brain structure embedded deep into the temporal lobe. It has a major role in learning and memory. It is a plastic and vulnerable structure that gets damaged by a variety of stimuli. Studies have shown that it also gets affected by a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders.” According to News Medical, the hippocampus “plays a vital role in regulating learning, memory encoding, memory consolidation, and spatial navigation.”
Your hippocampus is activated when you are in a new environment and need to use your attention, memory, and spatial navigation. Which differs from working out in a familiar environment or activity such as walking on a treadmill in the gym, where your brain isn’t being challenged cognitively.
Neuroplasticity is defined by Verywell mind as the “brain's ability to change and adapt due to experience.” Hiking new terrain in a new environment can be outside of our comfort zones, which is where the neuroplasticity effect is most powerful. A 2013 study observed the impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults and found that learning a new, more complex skill showed improvements in memory. Increase your neuroplasticity and learn and exercise a new skill like using a compass, pitching a tent, or taking up photography while on your next hiking adventure.
Hiking can also help your brain by increasing positive neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins which are famously known as “happy hormones” which boost mood, and energy and can help all-over brain function. A 2020 study states “Nature provides unique visual and auditory stimuli that benefit mood and cognitive performance.”
In conclusion, there are many positive benefits we can get from hiking- an increase in brain function, improved memory, and boosted mood, not to mention all of the physical health benefits as well. Wherever you decide to hike, Scentuals Aromatherapy Roll-Ons make the perfect hiking companions. When your hike is strenuous on your body, there's Muscle Pain- apply directly to your pain points to ease soreness and tenderness. Use De-Stress to boost the calming effects that hiking naturally brings, Balance to relax the mind, relieve tension and uplift spirit, and Focus to improve mental focus, promote relaxation and evoke feelings of wellness. Simply roll onto your temples, wrists, and other pulse points and reapply as necessary to feel the harmonious blend of essential oils relax your mind as you exercise it.