A hiking journey towards mental wellness is one step at a time…
We all know the physical benefits of hiking. The mental health benefits are proven, long-lasting and even more extraordinary. When I first made the decision in late 2015 to hike an end-to-end of the Bibbulmun Track, I began to research everything about long-distance hiking. I placed most of my energy on how to be prepared physically. Very little mentally. I was still very much the novice and inexperienced.
Until one day I watched a YouTube video by a guy named Terry, trail-name Seven. He suggested getting into the best physical shape you can. But place even more attention on being prepared mentally.
Hiking is 90% mental.
Therefore it makes sense that the benefits of hiking are extremely positive on your mental health.
The first benefit I experience every time. It improves your outlook on everything. It’s an instant calming. The solitude, the sound of the leaves in the breeze. A running stream. You stop overthinking and it simplifies everything, which makes it amazing for problem-solving.
I process things differently out there, whether its because it clears my mind, or it enhances the brain waves.
Hiking sparks your creativity… It’s been proven to increase creativity, the more time you spend in nature than around technology. If this is true, it makes daily office meetings quite unproductive and unhealthy. Hiking increases your ability to process information.
I often become inspired with ideas. Say hello to new nerve cells. Nature is forever creative, so are we in the right environment.
Builds endurance – During my end-to-end, I had to overcome several challenges that nearly pulled me off the track which I needed to deal with myself. I don’t regret or resent any of them!
I read that Hiking is classified as a low-impact cardiovascular workout. Which means it is suitable for people of all ages, provided you have good health. It is also a weight-bearing exercise, meaning it builds strength in many important muscle groups and improves bone density.
There is an obvious physical and mental impact difference, between a one-hour hike in the forest and a 5-day backpacking adventure with numerous climbs, bigger km and heavier pack.
Evidence: Hiking To Healing
There have been studies from Japan who has “Shinrin-yoku – forest bathing” a government policy. Spending 3 days in nature have lasting changes to a person mentally. They also discovered that trees and plants release anti-bacterial chemicals into the atmosphere. Which are absorbed by us the hiker and our stress levels by lowering cortisol.
A 2015 Stanford University study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression.
Most of us are city dwellers and the numbers are increasing for more employment and services opportunities. But fewer nature opportunities except for the beach, but they are often crowded.
We have busier lives in the suburbs so less time to drive an hour out of town to go for a nature walk or day hike.
A 3-day hike is like a fast track to great mental health in slow motion.
Hiking alone and with others can work hand in hand. Time alone for several days has been the most powerful mental health kick I’ve ever experienced, the greatest relationship with myself.
Days of hiking with others, especially people who you are close to. Emotionally like family and physically, people you work with buildings stronger relationships. Conquering difficult hills and ranges together bonds you with others.
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recognised this when he coined the phrase: “Nature cures—not the physician.”
Some of the amazing benefits…
- Improves your ability to manage stress levels and lowers production of stress hormones such as cortisol
- Stress comes and goes, it’s how you manage it that matters. I handle my stress very differently by immediately dealing with it or I have strategies to doing what is required day to day until I can deal with it.
- Alleviate or lessen symptoms of depression. The levels of good feelings I experience in a forest is so powerful, it’s hard to express.
- reduce anxiety, it slows my thoughts down to a level from rushing, crashing rapids to a gentle stream where I can then guide my canoe to where I want to be.
- lower blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension. I have never been fitter or stronger than I have felt since my end-to-end.
From Mensline Australia and Didier Walks
Didier Walks participation…
One of Didier’s core beliefs behind Didier Walks was how hiking was affecting him and others in such a positive way. Since that time he has guided/mentored others of all ages, from all backgrounds. People experiencing barriers they refused to allow to stop them. From depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity… It can be extremely challenging to step out of your comfort zone, frightening.
Didier works to challenge your comfort zone in a safe place, through the management of emotions. We stay present by learning live aspects of hiking in a practical way. eg: following the marker, the feeling of the track under your feet. Staying in-tune with your own body, feeling hot spots (pre-blister).
“Everyone underestimates what they are capable of out there” – Didier