It’s common sense that walking up and down hills makes your body work more efficiently. It’s less well-known how good it can be for your mental state, says John McKinney, former Los Angeles Times hiking columnist, in this article at Miller-McCune.com.
A study commissioned by Mind, a leading British mental health charity, suggests hiking contributes to improved mental and emotional health. Focusing on people affected by depression, researchers from the University of Essex compared the benefits of hiking a trail through the woods and around a lake in a nature park to walking in an indoor shopping center. The researchers found that the hikers realized far greater benefits than the mall walkers.
In fact, they found that taking a hike in the countryside reduces depression, whereas walking in a shopping center increases depression. Results from the 2007 study showed that 71 percent reported decreased levels of depression after hiking, while 22 percent of the participants felt their depression increased after walking through an indoor shopping center. Ninety percent reported their self-esteem increased after the nature hike, while 44 percent reported decreased self-esteem after walking around the shopping center. Eighty-eight percent of people reported improved mood after hiking, while 44.5 percent reported feeling in a worse mood after the shopping-center walk.
The article also outlines the value of going downhill.
Unexpectedly, researchers from the Vorarlberg Institute for Vascular Investigation and Treatment discovered that hiking downhill also has unique benefits.
Both uphill and downhill hiking reduced LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Only hiking uphill reduced triglyceride levels. The study’s surprise finding was that hiking downhill was nearly twice as effective as uphill hiking at removing blood sugars and improving glucose tolerance
Incidentally, McKinney has a Web site called Trailmaster.com, where he has declared 2009 to be the Year of the Hiker and has an addendum about an Irish play of the same name.
How about urban and sub-urban hiking. I recently discovered, out of necessity, the benefits of putting some miles on in my neighborhood. I’d like to see how that fits into the nature vs shopping mall scale.