Want to find an activity that not only gives your body a great workout but benefits your mind and soul, too? You may (or may not) be surprised to find that an unassuming hike can do just that. Emersed in the beauty of nature, walking at your determined pace alone or with a friend, hiking can be the simple cure for many of our modern-day ails. As Henry David Thoreau said, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Yes, indeed.
Hiking is good for the soul
If you’ve ever heard of the Japanese concept of “forest bathing,” a hike may seem even more magical. When we are walking amidst trees, we are actually communicating with them. With each inhale, we take in fresh oxygen, made by the trees, that stimulates the function of every cell in our body. On every exhale, we remove waste products from our lungs in the form of carbon dioxide, which the trees then absorb as their own. This connection combined with the scents, sights and general beauty of the woods is hard to put into words unless you’re a poet. Thus, the term “forest bathing” (“shin-rin yoku” in Japanese) was born.
Forest bathing becomes a form of food for the soul. Many of us have experienced the onslaught of a too-full mind, but after a walk in the woods, we often feel much better. Maybe it isn’t just because we got the chance to move our bodies and get out of our office for a bit (although these things are great benefits of hiking, too!). Being in the woods actually physically decreases our stress levels, which allows us to become more intertwined with the present moment, a very soul-satisfying experience.
Movement benefits our overall well-being
Exercise is most definitely another benefit of hiking and one that is probably thought of as the most common. Our sedentary lifestyles of the modern day are no match for our ancient, nomadic past. Our ancestors used to move through the woods with ease and walk for much of the day. By getting even 30 minutes of exercise a day, we can begin to feel wonderful benefits both physically and mentally.
A mere 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise can cut your risk of premature death in half. Furthermore, a fast-paced walk or jog through the woods can get your heart pumping enough to help you maintain a healthy weight, decreasing your chances of developing a host of chronic diseases. If you are more in favor of slow ambles that allow you to take in all of the beauty that blankets the woods, then go for it. A walk, no matter how slow, is great for your overall health, can help improve joint function and contributes to a meditative state of mind.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste
Being in nature can really do wonders for our minds. In a time where many people suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety or depression due to factors such as our high achievement-oriented culture, a walk through the woods is not only calming but also rejuvenating. Hiking can get your creative juices flowing, too. Mother Nature has served as a muse for many artists, poets and writers, but just being in the fresh air of the woods and simultaneously moving your body can give you inspiration to start that new project or hobby.
Hiking also builds self-confidence and resilience, increases the feeling of connection to nature and the world around you and keeps your mind sharp. Happiness, calm and reduced stress are just some other benefits of this hobby. Never has a simple walk sounded so good!
If you’re just starting out, Hancock County offers many hiking opportunities, the most popular of which is Pennsy Trail in Greenfield. Make sure to wear appropriate shoes for the weather, especially if you plan to hike for a longer distance. Dress in layers so you can be comfortable as you hike. If you decide to hit up one of Indiana’s many state parks, grab a trail map to ensure you stay on the right path. Whatever you do, get out and get hiking and see what benefits you feel once you soak up all of that forest goodness!