Monday, July 22, 2013

Take a Hike, Go for a Bike!

It's been hot, right?!  Hopefully. wherever you are is now moving into a cooler phase of summer weather once again like it is here in Wisconsin.  So, it is perfect weather for getting outdoors.  Time to find a trail and hike it or bike it.

Hiking always involves an element of nature and that means good health.  "Vitamin N", as enjoying nature is sometimes called, is a bit of a mystery, but the evidence is there.  It's more than your mom turning off the TV and telling you to get outside and get some fresh air.  Our need for nature might be evolutionary.  We might be hard-wired for a deeper connection to the great outdoors simply because we once existed there.  When green spaces are available to people in urban spaces, people are healthier.  Might be that we need exposure to the diverse bacteria available in nature.  Might be that the air is different.  No one knows for sure.  However, it is clear that exposure to nature reduces the risk for obesity, cancer, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. 

Walking in nature versus walking in the city shows greater benefits in regards to stress hormones and general mood alteration.  Walking either way is a mood booster, but the addition of what the Japanese call  "forest bathing" creates even more benefit - blood pressure lowers, heart rate decreases, and immune function improves.  Hiking combines nature, walking, and aerobics (especially if you've got some hills involved).  Add in some mental activity such as identification of plants and birds and it's a pretty well-rounded exercise!

A study of hikers who spent 4 days in nature showed a 50 percent increase in creativity and hour long hikes through an arboretum improved memory and attention span.  Even self-esteem is reported to increase!  Just 15 minutes in nature can have positive effects. 

I was pretty excited to find a blog completely dedicated to biking for transportation.  As someone with a bumper sticker that says "My other car is a bicycle," I love that someone is taking the time to encourage others to use a cleaner/healthier form of transportation.  What I see as the very best benefit to biking is that I get two things done at once - exercise and getting from point A to point B.  I am super excited to see that the number of people biking to work almost doubled in the first decade of this century.  Some of the same benefits I listed above apply here: reduction of stress and mood boosting.  Commuting by bike increases life span, even compared to those who drive as their commute and are then active otherwise.  This came from a study that spanned 14 years.  Reduced rates of diabetes, cancer and cardio-vascular disease were found in yet another study.

Also, biking can be a social event.  There are communities of all levels of bikers out there - biking to social events and enjoying each other's company.  There is the benefit of decreasing pollution.  Be careful, however, choose less polluted routes as far from car fumes as possible.  Some studies have shown that breathing in the exhaust of fellow motorized vehicle commuters is not beneficial!  Having been behind a bus multiple times, I can concur - very unpleasant.

Both of these activities are perfect for summertime.  They can include picnics, stops at the beach or pool, alone time or group/family time, and adventures to new places.  Check your state, county or city parks websites.  Most will have icons for hiking and biking trails available to you.  Get healthy and enjoy life!

Check out places in the Madison, WI area for hiking with me in my blog Making My Way to the Appalachian Trail.

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