Take a Hike! 3

HEAD TO THE HILLS TO CLEAR YOUR MIND AND FREE YOUR SOUL

Caitlin Eversole is a lifelong nature lover. She loves to hike, kayak, and scuba dive. As a Naturalist, her career affords her the opportunity to travel the country advancing conservation and managing the demands on natural resources.

She says, “Ever since I was a little girl being outdoors has given me a feeling of peace. It’s not a quiet kind of peace, as there are many noises outside when you take the time to listen, but it’s where I feel the most alive. As I’m hiking along a trail, reality really sets in. I’m completely in the moment and my mind is clear.”

Many hikers mention the feeling of clarity and tranquility. But how much peace can there be hiking in a rugged terrain, at a high elevation, with sudden weather changes and insects nipping at your ankles? Well, there is real science to it. As we spend more time interacting with our cell phones and computers and less time playing outdoors, we are chemically affecting our brains to be less “in the moment of living.”

In 2012, a study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that disconnecting from technology and connecting with nature can greatly improve creative problem solving skills and increase creative thinking. Study participants backpacked through nature for four days without using any form of technology. They were asked to perform tasks that required creative thinking and complex problem solving. Researchers found that the performance on tasks that required problem solving improved by 50% for the participants who spent several days in a natural environment.

There is no denying it. Hiking is a great form of exercise. According to GoodHiker.com, regular aerobic exercise such as hiking leads to a myriad of health benefits, including improved cardio-respiratory fitness, lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, reduced depression and better quality sleep, lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, and of course, weight control—hiking burns up 370 calories an hour (154-lb person). But those who hike don’t seem to do it as much for the physical benefits as they do for the mental benefits.

Avid hiker Adam Laizure says, “It’s true. I appreciate the physical side but it’s more healing for me. When I hike, I’m not worried about my job, checking social media, or answering texts and emails every couple of minutes. Instead, I’m concentrating on myself and God’s wonderful creation. Being outdoors frees my mind, body, and soul from stress.”

Devoted hiking enthusiasts have a love affair with the great outdoors. Many feel a bond to Mother Nature. Others experience a greater connection to God or their higher power. Either way, it’s an intense personal connection that keeps them headed up the mountain.

Eversole says, “I’ve always admired the American Indian culture which believes that all the elements are alive: the water, the soil, the mountains, etc. Everything is constantly changing. You never know what to expect each day or around the next corner. Every day I spend in nature is a new connection I’ve made with Earth.”