By Kai Morris – BSocSc Psych Hons and MPsych (Sport & Exercise). Psychologist, Mental Notes Sport and Performance Psychology, Consultant at Allsports Physiotherapy Parkwood
Another American holiday is making beginning to make waves in Australia. This time, instead of wearing ghoulish masks or dressing up as your favourite movie character on Halloween, we are being asked to slip, slop, slap, and head for the trails. Perhaps a scary thought for some still?
As the name suggests, Take a Hike Day encourages us to hit the trails and take a hike. This exciting day was created to help people disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, re-connect with the peacefulness of nature and encourage healthy exercise habits. It turns out, there are a lot of benefits from a mental point of view as well.
Below are 5 key benefits from engaging in Take a Hike Day.
1. Improve your mood and ability to manage stress
Humans are hunters and gatherers. Our bodies were designed to move, to hunt, to run, to jump. We are meant to exercise, and we know that exercise is great for physical health and mental health. When we exercise, our body releases ‘feel good’ hormones. Ever endured a tough fitness session, which you may have wished was over, but felt terrific afterwards? Thanks mind!
Using an analogy of a cup and water (water meaning stress), life is full of water and it may at times feels like our cup will fill to the brim. Rather than emptying the cup, exercise helps us to build a bigger vessel so we can take on more water before it starts to overflow – exercise increases our capacity to manage the life stressors we face.
2. Being amongst nature
Ever felt cluttered, overwhelmed or like there is just too much going on? Life can become busy, and with the emergence of technology our minds are always on the go. When we are in nature and on a trail, it can help us be more in the present moment while we exercise, noticing the beauty around us, the sounds of the leaves, the animals (hopefully not snakes) etc. All of a sudden, the hustle and bustle calms down and we become fully absorbed in what we are doing.
Sounds amazing right? Who’d want to exercise on a boring old treadmill? Unless that is your thing… that is okay as well. For me, nature also provides a valuable distraction from the heaviness of my breathing and feeling as though my lungs are about to fall out.
3. Alleviating the emotional strain of COVID-19
We have all unfortunately felt the effects of COVID-19 this year. I have been fortunate enough to live in Queensland where we have had manageable restrictions or interruptions to daily life, however, I know at times I have still struggled with staying within my own bubble. As mentioned earlier, taking a hike is a valuable way to get out of the house and exercise, rather than feeling isolated or cooped up at home.
4. A chance to engage with friends and family
The benefits of exercise for mental health are not just in relation to the exercise itself – we know that if we exercise with others, it has an added layer of benefit. Hiking on your own could be a tough affair, why not share that with others? Instead of going to the pub, get some mates together and go for a hike today or this weekend.
Social connection is invaluable to helping us stay mentally well. Enjoy a deep conversation while admiring the beauty of the landscape around you. When we exercise with others, it can also assist with our motivation to perform the task as well. Why not get together with friends and perform an activity where you will feel good afterwards… unlike the pub, where the next day tends to be a bit rough?
5. Feeling a sense of achievement
When we go for a hike, typically it is a physical task. It might be a leisurely stroll, but it can still be quite tough. When we finish something that tends to be hard, we feel a sense of accomplishment afterwards, a kind of ‘I did it’ scenario. Something new can fill us with a sense of excitement and encouragement to keep going, especially something that may be typically out of our daily routine like hiking. We tend to feel a sense of achievement and accomplishment, which is a great feeling to have. One of the keys to a mentally well life is feeling a sense of control over our lives and feeling like we can achieve something. Finishing a hike reminds us of the control we have and our own capability.
In summary, Take a Hike Day can be the kick-starter to a healthier and active life, both physically and mentally. However, hiking is just one form of exercise and there are many types out there such as CrossFit, weight lifting, walking or even that treadmill. The key is to pick something you enjoy that will add value to your life. If that is hiking, fantastic! If not, perhaps view taking a hike as an analogy to get moving, because all exercise has the benefits mentioned above, just in a different context.
If you want some assistance in improving your relationship with exercise, finding motivation, living a mentally well life, or improving your performance in any context please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Mental Notes.