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NOV. 9, 2016

The Benefits of a Hike in the Woods

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I grew up in the country, surrounded by pastures and woods. Instead of spending days playing video games, I spent my afternoons and summer days exploring the natural world around me. I built forts in the woods, splashed around in the creek, and occasionally captured my neighbor’s somewhat wild horses and rode them bareback through the field (sorry Mom). As I got older, whenever I felt stressed or confused I headed outside for comfort and answers. These days,  when I want to clear my mind and connect to what’s important in life, I find myself lacing up my running shoes or hopping on my mountain bike for a run or ride through the woods. I don’t think that I’m the only one that does that, and with good reason. As it turns out, spending time exercising in nature is good for your body and your brain.

I recently read an article that sighted a study from psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David Strayer who found that “creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature.”  Participants in this study discounted from technology and headed out on a 4 day backpacking trip. When asked to perform creative thinking and complex problem solving tasks, the participants ability to do so improved by 50%. These findings are not at all shocking, nor or those of many other researchers who study the effects of time in nature on the brain, including Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University. Bratman also found that study volunteers who went on brief, “discounted” walks through the lush grounds of Stanford were more attentive and happier after their walks than their counterparts who walked through busy streets.

There’s no doubt that exercise is good for our physical well-being; exercise in nature, removed from distractions and technology is also good for our emotional health and can reduce anxiety and boost wellbeing. We see it in our campers each summer as they head to the mountains for 1 – 3 weeks to connect with nature, friends and to themselves. I see it in the joy on the faces in and the hearts of campers and staff as they return from a day hike at Black Balsam Knob or from 3 days with their X-craft class. I feel it when I talk with teens about their 3-week “Hero’s Journey” on Hante; they are all at once inspired and filled with peace.

So, make time each day, each week or each month to disconnect from technology and go for a walk, run or ride in the woods. Find a pretty park or rose garden in your town, and make time in your routine to explore it. Your body and mind will be better for it.

Paige Lester Niles, Camp Director