How Hiking & Being in Nature Can Help with Depression & Mood Disorders

Bipolar & Mood Disorders

For Coloradans, the mood boosting benefits of being in nature are obvious. There’s something about being outside in the mountains, hiking or skiing, that naturally puts one in a better place mentally and brings joy. However, many people may still be surprised to discover that there is actual science that explains this matter.
It’s a well known fact that exercise can help with depression. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, leading to an elevation in mood. It also reduces stress and anxiety, improves memory functions, and helps regulate sleep cycles. However, recent studies show that exercise can be even more beneficial when performed outdoors in nature.

Study Explains the Link Between Urbanization & Mental Health

A study conducted by Stanford University examined the mental health benefits of exercising outdoors. As urbanization grows in the US, many natural areas and parks are being eliminated. For many, this is an alarming change, because not only does the environment suffer, but so do people and communities.
While there may be some benefits to living in an urban environment, such as convenience, affordability, and increased socialization, there are some drawbacks when it comes to one’s mental health. Studies show that urbanization is closely related to an increase in mental illness.
Specifically, individuals living in an urban environment are at a 20% higher risk of developing anxiety disorder and have a 40% higher chance of developing mood disorders. Theories suggest that this is because individuals in urban areas are prone to something called rumination. A common behavior in individuals with mental health disorders, ruminations is the act of having repetitive negative thoughts about oneself. People who live in the city are more likely to develop this habit than those in the county.

How Hiking Helps with Depression & Anxiety

Fortunately, outdoor exercise may be able to put patterns of rumination to an end and decrease the risk of mental health issues. The study conducted by Stanford shows evidence of this. Participants of the study were instructed to take a 90 minute walk through a natural area away from the city. Afterwards, their neural activity was examined. The results of the examination revealed that after hiking, most individuals had decreased levels of activity in an area of the brain commonly associated with mental illness. The participants also reported lower levels of rumination.
For individuals and children living in Denver who suffer from depression, the results of this study may provide a glimmer of hope. Denver is only a short drive away from the Rocky Mountains, and has numerous parks where one can easily take a stroll outside. Hiking could be a very viable way for Denver residents to cope with feelings of depression or anxiety.

Getting Advice from a Doctor for Depression

Of course, when depression is suspected, it’s always best to consult a doctor or mental health professional. Emerge is a mental health clinic in Denver that offers psychological evaluation services and psychotherapy for adults and children. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment to be seen by a doctor in Denver for matters related to depression, please contact our office.