TAKE A HIKE
Hiking has had a wellness makeover. And the benefits go beyond completing the rings on your Apple Watch. When you set off on a walk, your heart rate increases, pumping more blood and oxygen to your organs, including your brain. It’s the reason studies have shown that people perform better on tests involving memory and attention during or after mild exertion, the kind you do on a hike. That’s true of your average mind, but when you look at the impact of walking on an anxious mind, something special seems to happen. Research has proven that exercise reduces both self-reported feelings of stress and physiological signs of anxiety. And the effect becomes all the more powerful when you take it outside. So powerful that a recent review of nature-based interventions for mental healthcare concluded that making greater use of interventions like gardening therapy could help people suffering from mental health problems; so powerful that the charity Mind is calling for ecotherapy to be recognised as a clinically valid frontline treatment for mental health problems. I work in Piccadilly Circus, and most mornings it’s like Piccadilly Circus. Walking out of the Underground, I can almost feel the neurons firing as my thoughts become as crowded as the pavement I’m attempting to navigate. It’s my sympathetic nervous system talking – the one that sends you into fight-or-flight mode – and when I swapped Piccadilly for the Peak District, it took a hike. That’s according to psycho evolutionary stress-reduction theory, which po sits that natural environments reduce the physiological symptoms of stress. One study found that walking in the woods, as opposed to a cityscape, reduced participants cortisol levels by 12% and decreased sympathetic nerve activity by 7%.