Mental Health Benefits of Trekking

By Di Westaway | CEO Wild Women On Top

I hate going to the gym.

There. I’ve said it. I hate the pain, the boredom, the smell of sweat, the suffering and the burning feeling in my heart, head, lungs and legs.

But … I also hate the feeling that comes when I run fast up the stairs; try to keep up with my son on a bike; or sprint after a ball in the soft sand.

And I really hate that feeling when I’m caught in a rip, swimming against the current, gasping for air and thinking I might die.

But what I love is how I feel when I STOP doing all these things. And how happy, rejuvenated and young I feel for the rest of the day.When the gym’s over; when I get to the top of the stairs; when I catch my son; when I get the ball and when I don’t drown because I’ve managed to catch a wave to the beach.I LOVE the feeling you get when the puffing part of exercise is over. It makes us happy. It makes our kids happy. It makes us fitter and stronger. But no, I agree it’s not fun.

But what if there was a kind of exercise that IS fun? What if you could find something that’s fun DURING as well as after the event?

And what if you could find a kind of exercise that you can enjoy with your friends, where you could chat, solve all the world’s problems, plan and brainstorm ideas? Exercise in stunning locations with all the distractions of nature, weather and adventure? Exercise that motivates you to try hard in the painful bits where you just want to give up?

If that sounds appealing to you, consider trekking.

There’s no question that exercise is good for us. And in mental health month, we are also being reminded that exercise is good for our mental health. But did you know that trekking, which is endurance walking in nature, is one of the best ways to get the mental health benefits of exercise, without the pain and suffering of the gym.

Trekking is about fun, fitness, friends, family and forests. It’s a walk in the woods. And it has been shown to change your brain.

Recent studies, highlighted in the New York Times shows that walking in nature has great health benefits including decreased anxiety, reduced brooding, less negativity and increased positivity, as well as increased memory performance. Scientists have suggested that decreased nature experience may help to explain the link between urbanization and mental illness. But new research, from the National Academy of Science in the US, shows that walking in nature changes the brain – in a good way.This study shows that a nature experience may improve mental well-being and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.

Another study, by Stanford University  found that people who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.

So what does this say for our rapidly urbanizing world? Are we slowly destroying the very thing that keeps us sane?

There’s now a growing body of research showing that group walks in nature have remarkable mental health benefits including easing depression, combating stress and boosting mental well-being. For some sufferers of depression, medication is still required to get them out of bed. But once up, a hike with friends can be the best medicine to support their recovery.  

An expansive study, by the University of Michigan (USA) and Edge Hill University (UK), confirms that walking in nature with your friends really does improve your mental health. Authors of the study recommend walking outside in nature at least three times a week to experience benefits. They concluded that “group walks in nature were associated with significantly less depression, perceived stress, and negative affect and greater positive affect and mental well-being.”

“Given the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the population in the developed world, group walk programs in local natural environments may make a potentially important contribution to both public health and individual well-being with benefits in mental health, coping with stress, and improved emotions.” Ecopsychology Volume: 6 Issue 3: September 19, 2014

So, trekking with friends can be your gym, the forest is your garden of Eden, and you will be doing yourself and your family a big favour by adding trekking to your workout plan.

And if you’re still not convinced, check out the fun of Sydney Coastrek and get yourself motivated to start today. 

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