What Happens To Your Hormones When You Go Hiking

Life in the human body should be a mostly blissful experience. Our evolutionary biology ensures that everything necessary for our survival makes us feel good. Like most animals, we seek pleasure and avoid pain. Our clever brain has a wellspring of self-produced chemicals that can turn the pursuits and struggles of life into pleasure by making us feel good when we overcome them, for example hormones.

For example, running away from a predator releases endorphins (happiness). Being in nature reduces stress hormones and boosts serotonin (relaxation and happiness). Having sex produces dopamine (warm fuzzy feeling) and oxytocin (tranquillity and love). These hormones are all designed to make us feel good; calm, connected, happy, energised.

An active adventure challenge in nature produces this same chemical cocktail because it mimics our cave woman activities. It provides an exciting, bold, thrilling experience of mind, body and spirit that boosts health.

Many of my clients start out with a mini-adventure, such as a half-day hike, and fall in love with the experience.

Barbara, a corporate lawyer, got so hooked on adventure that she ditched her business partners, sold her house and all her possessions and took up full-time mountain climbing after just a few hikes in Sydney’s Blue Mountains. She went from being an over-stressed, unfit office worker to a fit, strong, powerful mountaineer in her forties. She has now climbed many of the world’s highest mountains, including Everest. And she’s never been happier.

Another client, Sonia – a “princess and pearls” kind of girl – took up hiking in her forties and now does a big wild adventure every year. She says without the adventures to look forward to and train for, her exercise routine vanishes under an avalanche of work, making her a stress mess.

You don’t have to abseil off the Harbour Bridge or ski naked down Mt Everest to get a thrill from adventure. Research shows just climbing trees, jumping garden beds, frolicking along beaches or strolling in the park can make you heathier, happier and more resilient.

Active adventures in nature keep us fit, healthy, happy and youthful. They make us feel good because they’re good for us. Like motherhood, adventure creates moments of discomfort, frustration and even pain, but it can also bring exhilaration that lasts for years.

We can survive without it, but we’re happier and more fulfilled with it. Science uncovers why adventure helps us not only to manage our moods, but feel pure joy. And it’s all got to do with those little chemicals inside us that make us feel stuff: hormones.

We don’t need to have sex or run away from tigers to get them. We get an endorphin high from hiking hills, a dopamine dose from overcoming a challenge, serotonin from bathing in nature and oxytocin from sharing the fun with friends.

While it enhances your happy hormones, adventure is also a personal experience, relative to you. What is adventurous for me may not be for you. For you, it might be a night bush walk or sleeping out under the stars. It might be sky diving, or climbing Mt Everest. For me it’s a handstand on a beautiful mountain, or ocean swimming from Manly to Shelly Beach.

So, if checking Facebook makes you feel like everybody is sailing in the Bahamas, watching the sunrise on a tropical island, looking glamourous at a barefoot beach party or camping out under a full moon while you feel miserable, try adventure.

If you’re drowning in an ocean of emails, deadlines, balance sheets, planning templates and mother guilt that just won’t shift, try adventure.

If you’ve got the feeling that you’re not doing enough, not being enough, not helping enough, and not mothering enough and you’ve always worked hard but sometimes you set the bar too high for your health, try adventure.

If you’re fit and fabulous already but want to find something new and fun… you guessed it. Try adventure.

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