Hiking Your Way to Happiness: How Hitting the Trails Boosts Mental Health

Hiking does wonders for mental health by reducing anxiety and depression, boosting mood and creativity, improving sleep, increasing self-esteem and more.

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Josh Koop

I live with my wife and daughter in Katy, Texas and my local trail is the Lone Star Hiking Trail which is an amazing way to experience the Sam Houston National Park!

Lady on a hillside taking in the green world to help with her mental approach
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If you suffer from anxiety or depression, it’s time to consider hiking for mental health benefits. Sure, we all know how beneficial hiking can be for the body.

But did you know about these incredible mental health benefits of hiking?

Hiking can:

  1. Reduce Stress
  2. Boost Mood and Creativity
  3. Improve Sleep Quality
  4. Reduce Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
  5. Increase Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

Still not convinced? Just wait; the benefits of hiking for mental health get way crazier!

Hiking for Mental Health: 5 Incredible Anxiety Benefits

Hiking Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Hiking is a great way to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body. The more time we spend stressed out, anxious, or in “fight or flight” mode, the higher our cortisol levels will be.

Elevated cortisol levels keep our body tense, on edge, and anxious all day. This can quickly become a vicious cycle.

We can lower cortisol levels in the body by exercising and participating in enjoyable activities that cause the brain to release endorphins.

Since hiking can be both strenuous and fun, it’s one of the best workouts to make us feel happier and less stressed.

Of course, if you ever get too stressed on the trail or at home, knowing a few anxiety coping mechanisms like these can be helpful.

Hiking Boosts Your Mood and Sparks Creativity

Hiking is a fantastic way to improve your mood. It gets you outdoors, spending time in nature and away from the hustle and bustle of urban city life.

Fresh air and exercise are both great mood boosters. Additionally, wandering through nature and appreciating your surroundings is a phenomenal way to unplug and boost creativity and happiness.

Hiking, in general, also provides an incredible opportunity to meditate while walking in nature.

Hiking gives you time to clear your head and think about things that are important to you. It puts a swift end to rumination and feeling overwhelmed or fatigued.

Very few people in history have ever finished a hike in a worse mood than before they started.

Hiking Leads to Better Sleep Quality

Not only is hiking for mental health a great way to get some exercise and fresh air, but it can also improve your sleep quality.

Spending time outdoors under natural sunlight helps reinforce a healthy circadian rhythm.

In other words, your brain understands better when it’s time to be active and when it’s time to start powering down for sleep.

The temperature of our whole body is also elevated while hiking rough terrain, which helps our body cool down better before bed.

Like a trip to the gym, hiking tends to burn a ton of energy.

Not only does this physical activity make you feel great and decrease stress, but it also plays a role in helping us to feel more ready for sleep at the end of the day.

Hiking Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

For many people, being indoors or confined to crowded urban settings can hurt mental health.

Taking a stroll through the city cannot compare to the positive impact of spending time in the wilderness or among more natural surroundings.

But is hiking good for anxiety? Well, most people find that time spent in nature can make you feel happier, increase mindfulness, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Even a short hike can leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed. The scenery: the trees, the mountains, the wildflowers; nature can help you eliminate mental fatigue, improve your mental health, and induce feelings of positivity.

Take a moment to think about what could be causing you anxiety or depression in your life.

Chances are, a quick trek, climb, or hike can give you a break from the “reality” you need, bringing you peace of mind and better mental health.

Hiking Builds Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

Another mental health benefit of hiking is its ability to increase self-esteem and self-confidence.

While true that most exercises can function as a way to fill us with positive emotions and self-worth, this is especially the case with hiking.

Unlike many competitive sports, hiking is not something we can “lose” at; we’re only competing against ourselves, improving our wellness and endurance with every step .

As long as you’ve enjoyed yourself, everyone goes home a winner.

Hiking can help us feel better about ourselves as we hit the trails and go about the task of conquering our goal.

The physical health benefits can also help us to lose weight, build muscle, and become fitter overall.

This healthier lifestyle leads to fewer feelings of insecurity and greater feelings of empowerment.

Why Hiking is So Beneficial for Mental Health

There are so many mental benefits of hiking, and it can often seem too good to be true.

When we take a closer look, however, it’s really no surprise that time spent on the trail is so beneficial for our mental and physical health:

  • Breathing fresh air out in the open decreases the likelihood of the claustrophobia or over-stimulation we feel in cities.
  • Exposure to plenty of sunlight gives us the vitamin D our brain needs to function optimally and prevent anxiety.
  • Nature surrounds us, helping us feel more in sync with ourselves, absent the pressures of modern life.
  • Physical exercise decreases anxiety, aids sleep, and boosts mood.
  • Social opportunities to meet great people each time you hit the trail. Fellow walkers can be new friends. Socializing is an essential component of mental health.
  • Accomplishing a task like completing a challenging hike makes us feel good about ourselves and boosts self-esteem.

Final Thoughts: Is Hiking Good for Anxiety and Mental Health?

So… is hiking good for anxiety and mental health? Hiking is a great way to relieve anxiety, and hiking for mental health benefits is a great idea for anyone.

Whether you’re hiking for four days or four weeks, the benefits are going to be substantial.

There are two things we cannot neglect when it comes to taking care of our mental health:

  1. Time spent in nature
  2. Physical exercise

Going for a picnic is great for mental health because it gets us outdoors. Lifting weights at the gym is great for mental health because it gets our bodies moving. But hiking is amazing for mental health because it does both.

The next time you feel your stress, anger, or anxiety building up in your everyday life… Respond by hitting the trail and getting a hike in. Your brain will thank you!

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