Why Hiking Is One of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Brain

Updated: Jan. 14, 2021

You might think of a walk in the woods as simple fun, but you're actually nourishing your mind and boosting your mood. Your brain is telling you to take a hike.

If a quiet walk in the woods has ever helped you resolve a thorny issue, you may be aware that hiking can help boost creativity. Now it looks like lacing up your best pair of boots is one of the best things you can do for your brain and body.

In a study conducted by Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, people who spent even a brief portion of their day walking through green spaces were more attentive and happier than those who spent their day walking through city surroundings. A follow-up study from Bratman found that walking along quiet, tree-lined streets—rather than on busy city streets—led to “slight but meaningful improvements in mental health.” Bratman told the New York Times that based on these findings, he strongly believes that getting out into natural environments is an easy and efficient way to improve mood for those who live in city surroundings. In addition to boosting mood, hiking calmed thought patterns and eased stressed in volunteers. (Check out these hiking quotes that will inspire you to hit the trails.)

The-Amazing-Things-Hiking-Can-Do-for-Your-Brain Dudarev Mikhail/shutterstock

People tend to prefer hiking for exercise, as well. A study published in the journal PLOS revealed that volunteers who took lengthy walks outdoors had more enthusiasm and got more out of their workouts compared to a group who worked out on a treadmill.

The healing power of hiking along wooded trails extends even to people suffering from mental illness: In a study from 2012, researchers found that severely depressed people who started a regular regimen of hiking—in addition to therapy—felt less hopeless and entertained fewer suicidal thoughts.

Whether you’re scaling mountains or taking a short stroll through the forest, exercise like hiking helps sharpen our thinking and improves memory—it can even increase creativity. And with so many stunning trails to explore and lovely summer weather beckoning, there’s never been a better time to take a hike.