Hiking in Nature Decreases Depression
Depression is an ugly beast. It lies to you but there is a way to fight depression.
The CDC reports in the United States 18.8 million or 9.5 percent of the population suffers from depression. Eighty percent of the people affected by depression report some kind of functional impairment due to depression. In layman’s terms — they can’t get out of bed and face the world.
In 2003, national health expenditures for mental health services were estimated to be over $100 million. Depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year at a cost to employers of $17 to $44 billion. That is billion with a B, people!
People who are depressed tend to die at an earlier age too!
Spending time in nature is a cost effective way of alleviating or blocking some forms of depression. I’m not saying it is a cure all but I ams saying scientific study after scientific study has shown spending time in nature positively benefits your brain.
Nature is available to everyone. But not everyone “finds the time” to get outdoors.
When was the last time you went hiking with someone you love?
Odds are pretty high that you when you were young you spent time in nature every day. Now, how much time do you spend in nature?
When was the last time you went for a stroll through the woods? Played in creek?
Sat on the shoreline and simply watched the waves?
Exposure to nature reduces the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. Walking or hiking in nature also helps increase physical healthy and improves mental health. You are literally happier if you are outdoors hiking or taking in nature.
Since so many people suffer from depression or have a loved who is affected by depression let’s take a closer look at the inverse relationship between depression and time spent in nature. Stanford University researchers found that walking in nature yields measurable mental benefits and may reduce the risk of depression.
People who spent 90 minutes walking in a natural area show quantifiable decreased activity in the region of the brain associated with depression. The subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment. It is theorized that this is because on the number of decisions that have to be made to transverse a manmade environment.
We are overwhelmed with decision making. In today’s’ world, we have a fractured attention spans. Modern day life is constantly grabbing at our attention. Our constant companion, the cell phone beeps and burbles, computers ding notifications. Pop-up windows remind us of the next meeting
This common condition is called overwhelm and it is no wonder many have it. We make about 35,000 thousands of decisions a day. Most of those decisions do not matter such as liking a post but they still produce a drain on our mental state leaving us feeling depleted.
Time spent in nature helps restore our mental reserves or as psychologists call it, attention restorative theory. In a naturescape such as a hike through the woods, a stroll through a prairie, or simply watching waves crashing along the shoreline provide us the freedom to think as little or as much as we wish. They provide us with an opportunity to replenish our exhausted mental resources. To recharge our souls. We need a nature based vacation.
TAKE YOUR VACATION
Additionally, there is an inverse relationship between rates for depression and vacation time. Think about the last time you really took a vacation. The last time you turned off your cellphone, didn’t put out the latest brushfire at work, didn’t respond the client emails, heck didn’t even read client emails – the last time you truly went on vacation.
When was that?
The U.S. Travel Association found that Americans take only about 77 percent of their time off. That is essentially like working for free one week per year. To put this in more staggering terms that is about 169 million days forfeited and 52.4 billion in lost benefits.
But this loss of vacation time doesn’t benefit the employee or the employer. A study done by Ernst & Young found that employees who take their vacation leave perform better, have higher productivity, and are less likely to leave reducing employee turnover costs.
It is a cycle that only you can break and here are some ways to start:
This works if you are an early riser or night owl. Take a walk and listen for the different bird calls. Nothing else. Don’t listen to music. In fact, turn off the ringer in your phone and just walk. If you are a morning person get up 20 minutes earlier, throw on some clothes and head out the door. Night owls when the “day” is done and you are hitting that sweet spot of having the world all to yourself, put on your shoes and go for a walk. Worried about walking at night by yourself? Adopt a large breed dog or befriend and then ask that neighbor with the big dog if you can take it for a walk in the evening.
Go for a walk on your lunch hour. If you were like me, you typically skipped lunch or ate it at your desk while finishing a report. Take at least a 20-minute break and go for a walk in a natural setting. If possible do some simple yoga poses like proud warrior, sun salutation, and standing eagle. Watch how the light moves on the leaves.
Use your weekend wisely. If this means you mow the grass after work during the week or do all of your laundry midweek so you have your weekend free, then do it. Stop working for free on the weekends and go explore. A National Institute of Health showed that a week spent electronics free and camping reset the participants’ circadian clocks resulting in them feeling better and more at ease. While a weekend isn’t a week, it will still help your mental and physical state.
If you have a meeting at work have a walking meeting or have it outside. Walking meetings have the benefit of being shorter and focused on topic. And, outdoors meetings have the benefit of being outdoors.
Take all of your vacation leave and use it to spend time in nature. Go hike, camp, or paddle but turn off the cell phone first.
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