by Diane Spicer
Eight ways hiking makes you smarter - you've found this great list.
Clearly, you're plenty smart already!
Now let's up your brainpower as a hiker.
Here's the cheat sheet to save for later:
If you want to skip ahead:
Or slow down and take your time to work through the details of how hiking and feeling smarter go together.
Here we go, eight ways hiking makes you smarter!
Your brain cells suck down glucose and oxygen at an astounding rate, even when you're just sitting here reading these words.
Now imagine yourself with a full backpack and your legs pumping as you stride down (or hobble up) a trail.
You're going to need more fuel!
So your heart rate increases to fuel your muscles AND your brain cells with more blood flow. That keeps you humming along.
To help deliver glucose and oxygen to your brain:
You've got your daily routine, and by now it's second nature.
But on a trail, your normal thinking patterns are disrupted.
Especially if it's a trail you've never hiked before.
Navigating a new trail, or getting around a blocked section on the trail, challenges your spatial reasoning in ways your morning commute can’t.
So enjoy your map and compass time.
Try new ways to use your GPS navigation system.
Ask yourself questions as you look at the map, so you can challenge your spatial awareness and make new connections.
Think of it as building mental muscles, leading to higher brainpower.
Big bonus of hiking, wouldn't you say?
Distractions drop away and your reality becomes one foot in front of the other on a hike.
One breath at a time, you reach your destination.
This gives you moments of deep clarity and appreciation for your surroundings, things money can't buy and no amount of mental effort can achieve.
In fact, sharp mental focus is the result of the opposite of effort: just let go and get into the flow.
On your next hike, really notice the color of the wildflowers.
You're giving your body's muscles a great workout on a hike.
But you're also allowing relatively unused portions of your brain to experience a good romp.
Decisions will need to be made on a hike, giving different parts of your brain a workout:
Sometimes it's a rush to allow the fight/flight part of your nervous system to jump in and let you experience the thrill of not really knowing the answer!
But safety is most important as a hiker, so use these tips to play it smart and safe, using various areas of your brain.
Let's pause for a moment to recap what we've figured out so far about how hiking makes you smarter.
When you take a hike, you divert more blood flow to your muscle and brain cells.
That keeps the lights on and the motor humming along, so to speak, so you can reach your hiking destination.
More blood flow to the brain results in more brainpower to solve trail problems and make safe decisions about navigation, stream crossings, and whether or not to push on in the face of changing weather conditions.
Being outdoors and on a hiking trail calls for flexible thinking.
Sharp mental focus is the reward of tuning out all that mental noise we call our thoughts.
And finally, hiking gives you an excuse and an opportunity to light up different brain pathways.
Now let's continue on with the eight ways hiking makes you smarter, because I want you to enjoy all eight benefits!
Most days, you live in a box, work in a box, travel in a box... you get the idea.
Unbox your brain and let less dominant senses take over on a hike.
Focus on one sense at a time:
This attention to sensory awareness gives your frontal lobe brain area a break from the linear multitasking of everyday life.
And that makes you smarter in a softer, more subtle way.
It can be a bridge to your intuitive powers, so useful when you've got to make a tough decision in the face of limited facts.
Staying tuned into your senses moment by moment is a critical skill for solo hikers.
This is my favorite of all the eight ways hiking makes you smarter.
I'm sure you've experienced the frustration of trying to force creativity or find the perfect solution by pounding your head against the mental wall.
Here's the secret I've discovered as a hiker:
No mental effort required!
So when you're stuck for answers, go un-stick your brain with a hike.
Keep a trail journal and pen handy to capture your insights.
You already know how good it feels to sit down after a long hike and relax with a cold beverage and a slice of pizza.
Nothing matters more in that moment!
Give your brain that sense of relaxation by focusing on what is right in front of you on a hike, nothing more.
Don't try to overthink what your body is doing (or failing to do).
Then tune in:
Ah! That feels great!
You'll look better, too ;)
Hiking is a surefire path to stress reduction.
Cortisol (circulating stress hormone) levels drop as you get your body moving and your mind focused on something other than your troubles.
Get up to a comfortable cruising speed on the trail and blast out that cortisol.
Of the eight ways hiking makes you smarter, this is the one that pays off in health benefits for every cell in your body.
If you don't have time for a hike but are facing a stressful situation in your day, take a brisk 10 minute walk to work off your cortisol.
This works great before giving a big presentation or taking an exam.
Sit down to enjoy the view instead of blasting past a viewpoint.
Take out your camera and fool around with the colors and patterns you see. Don't try to achieve the perfect composition, just play.
Take a few extra minutes to appreciate the soaring raptor overhead.
Do a little deep breathing as you retie your boot lace; appreciate how those boots protect your feet with each breath and each step on the trail.
Here's the payoff:
Reduced stress hormones help your brain and your entire body work at optimal capacity.
Now if that isn't smart hiking, what is?
What you eat has a huge impact on energy and endurance.
You might be in a rut about what you throw into your backpack for snacks.
Or you might resort to tried and true, but dull, backpacking menu choices like mac and cheese.
Time to shake things up!
Here are some resources for the best choices for backpacking and trail snacks:
Each of us hits the trail for deeply personal reasons.
Getting smarter is just one way to enhance your hiking life.
Now check out these smart tips for whatever type of hiking you want to enjoy.
And then make plans to get out there. It's your life to live!
Eight Ways Hiking Makes You Smarter
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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