Today (November 17th) is National Take a Hike Day! I’ve written on this blog before about how weekly hikes with a friend during my early sobriety were crucial for my recovery. Getting into nature isn’t a cure for addiction or mental health disorders—but it can be extraordinarily healing.
A study out of Stanford University compared differences in the brains and bodies of people after they had walked for 90 minutes along a heavily-trafficked road or in nature. Both groups showed few physiological differences. However, the group that had walked in nature showed decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during repetitive negative thinking.
This is the reason some addiction treatment centers—like Amatus Recovery Centers—take people to local trails to hike. It’s not just about getting out of the building; nature can be a helpful part of recovery. It promotes calm. In early recovery (and beyond) it can encourage reflection about making a profound change in your life.
It’s a cliché to use nature as a metaphor for anything, but it can be helpful when it comes to addiction recovery. When I went on those hikes in early sobriety—a time when everything about my life was going through upheaval—I noted how nature is constantly changing. It reminded me that change is not only part of life, but that it is natural and can be a wonderful thing.
While nature is always changing, there are cycles that stay the same day by day, year by year—and this reminded me that I was still myself, even as I changed. This was useful as I figured out who I would be in sobriety, and how to change while still staying true to my essence as a person.
Hiking combines the benefits of nature with the benefits of exercise—which can also improve mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 times a week can significantly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. Just 10-15 minutes at a time may also have a positive impact.
Hiking helps people stay in the moment. You generally aren’t trying to get other things done while you hike; most people don’t send emails at the same time, for example. All you need to bring is yourself and whatever hiking gear you might need. Hiking isn’t something you rush through. But then again, if you’re feeling restless, you can speed up to help combat that feeling.
You can take a hike alone and use it as a time for quiet reflection. Or you can go with people in your life—a nice and healthy way to connect.
This National Take a Hike Day, the best way to celebrate—of course—would be to go on a hike! But if you can’t do that today, even stepping outside for some fresh air or a short walk is a nice way to reap some of the benefits of nature.
If the weather’s not great where you are, you can make a plan to take a hike sometime soon. National Take a Hike Day happens to be today, but it’s never a bad time to hike.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. Amatus Recovery centers across the country offer high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders. Our centers offer recreational therapy, which includes hikes at local trails to help improve your mental health. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.