Often in the wet and wild winter, we seek comfort and warmth of our heated homes and don’t give a second thought to taking a hike. With weather-appropriate gear and a little forethought, it can be the most exhilarating, mood-boosting movement to make winter a little less gloomy.
It is widely known that exercise increases endorphins, our feel-good hormone but there are other contributing factors to why taking a hike will improve your mood. Other than increasing our heart rate and body heat with some good old cardiovascular exercise, we can warm our mood with movement in the natural space.
COLOUR YOUR MOOD
When we connect with the natural environment we are surrounded by the plethora of blue and green hues that colour the natural palette. Throughout our evolution as human species from hunter-gather origins, the vibrant colours, deep greens, and watery blues informed us that there was a water source and therefore a food source where we found these colours. The natural hues were an indication that we no longer had to search for water or food to survive. The result of a nature walk is positive emotions of interconnectedness and subsequent reduction of anxiety and depressive symptomology.
If we were to take a hike with a friend or group, we benefit from the connection with others that helps promote wellbeing and interconnection. Similarly, when we walk within the natural environment, we feel more connected to the world in which we live and can practice more gratitude, and appreciation.
“Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster.”
The longest study on Happiness has shown that “Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster,” says Dr. Waldinger. - Harvard Health.
It’s important, more so throughout Winter to get outside, in the elements. Through sun exposure our bodies synthesize Vitamin D. This sun exposure in the winter months helps to regulate our serotonin. A natural mood stabilizer that controls wellbeing and happiness. Not having enough serotonin is thought to contribute to depression.
SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder
A type of depression that is associated with winter and the darker months with symptoms of sadness, lack of energy, oversleeping, constant tiredness, overeating, weight gain, and lack of interest in normal activities.
Caused by the shifts in the circadian rhythm (body clock) in relation to the shorter, colder, and darker days whereas in winter the body produces less of the hormone melatonin and serotonin, which affect sleep and mood. Importantly, we spend less time outdoors in the winter months and this has a significant effect also.
NEGATIVE IONS & PHYTONCIDES
Walking through a heavily lined tree trail or along the ocean beaches, we are exposed to a large number of negative ions. These are negatively charged particles that are generated from the energy of the crashing waves and woodland trees. When we inhale these particles they neutralize the free radicals within our bodies by providing an electron that would have been taken from a healthy cell. These free radicals create inflammation, damage cells, create oxidative stress, and are associated with aging, disease, and illness. By taking a hike, we can take advantage of the natural immune booster and well-being.
Phytoncides are volatile organic compounds (VOC's), commonly known as essential oils the trees release in order to communicate with one another. These oils are chemicals that are antimicrobial, antifungal, and insecticidal repellants released into the air when a tree is threatened, acting as a defense system for the community of trees.
These essential oils protect the trees from attack and benefit humans too.
Shinrin Yoku is the Japanese term for Forest Bathing. The presence of self and senses in the natural environment - to bathe in the forest. Shinrin-yoku Australia explains the benefits of reconnecting with nature.
Whilst a hike or strenuous walk isn't forest bathing, we still come into contact with a plethora of negative ions and phytoncides that are beneficial to both body and mind.
The natural world has all that we need to improve our state of mind. Simply bringing awareness to the natural scenery, smells, and sounds can increase our overall mood by practicing mindfulness. When we are in the moment through all the sensations of our bodies, we have the opportunity to wash away the ruminating thoughts of the past or anxiousness about the future. We can bathe our senses in bird songs, hear the waves crashing on the shore or gain a different perspective from hiking a mountain.
Being in the natural world, whether a mindful hike or a more arduous challenge we have the ability to change our state of mind, one step at a time.
Isn't it time you took a hike?
Check out our upcoming hikes here for inspiration and to book
Amanda & Shannon