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Mountains for mental health

IS HIKING up a mountain for five to six hours straight tiresome?
Yes, but in celebration of World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10), let me in on you this secret: surprisingly, dealing with certain kinds of people and jobs can be far more so.
Because it involves sweating and burning out that 300-calorie cheesecake, the physical benefits of hiking have long been established. Lowering blood pressure and shedding off unhealthy fats probably contribute to its popularity among beginners, not to mention the instagrammable backdrops of green rolling hills and 30 or so hashtags that go along with it. But exploring the outdoors can be much, much more than just reducing risks for stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
A study authored by researchers from Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in May 2015 revealed that after a 90-minute nature walk, participants reported lesser “rumination” or obsessive negative thoughts on one’s self.
Entitled “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation”, the study used brain scans to visualize how there were reduced activities in the portions of the brain associated with depression.
In addition, a Stanford article suggests Nature as a prescription for mental health issues, a logical antidote to the claim that “city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.”
In fact, in 2007 15 people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression participated in a 450-mile,six-month walking therapy in the United Kingdom. By the time the program culminated in hiking up Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Navis, all reported reduced take of sedatives; five have less psychiatric medications, and three have less auditory hallucinations. Over three quarters reported a sense of achievement and renewed self-confidence.
“Runner’s high”, that anecdotal shower of glitter and bliss after a run, isn’t the delirium from hunger and exhaustion that sedentary people think it is. It’s the adrenaline, which when released in the body, decreases tension and anxiety, and endorphins (alias “happy hormones” or “brain chocolates”) that immediately uplifts the mood.
Couple this rush of bodily chemicals with the popular but mysterious observation that being around trees makes one feel good and yes, you should totally give the trails a chance.
While humans are still trying to scientifically understand in chemical formulas and numbers how Nature can affect us so positively, there is no denying the magic that it does. More and more studies are asserting we should create green urban spaces where people can commune with Nature, perhaps a form of regression to that primal time when apple and blackberry and cherry were just fruits and not gadgets – when life was overall much simpler.
Furthermore, now that more people are hitting the outdoors for whatever purpose it serves them, let this go with the caveat that while Nature is good to humans, humans aren’t always good to Nature. Don’t kill that snake. Take that trash with you. Leave that weird plant alone.
If you can assault the overpass on traffic-stricken Mondays and stoically hold your tongue back against an unreasonable boss, then you are strong enough, and you can, with some confidence, trek and enjoy the green countryside. The latter, in fact, has scientifically proven benefits to help you cope with the toxicities of the former./PN



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