Hiking is a great form of exercise, especially if you’re not one to grind away in a gym for hours. With stunning surroundings, you tend to get distracted by the beauty of nature. You fail to notice your heart rate rising and your blood pumping as you devour the awe-inspiring sights before you deciding, “This moment is pure bliss and happiness”. But did you know exercise is scientifically proven to be linked to happiness?
When we exercise, our brain interprets it as a mild form of stress. This may sound a little bit counterproductive when your main purpose of hiking is to de-stress, but did you know there is such a thing as ‘good stress’?
Even with mild activity, your heart pressure increases and your body goes into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. Your brain tries to protect itself from this stress by releasing proteins that act to promote neurogenesis called the BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) gene. Not only is BDNF protective of neurons but it also reparative, building and repairing new neurons and synaptic links between those neurons promoting better cognitive function and a more focused mind.
You may have heard of endorphins released during exercise. Endorphins are a chemical the body releases in response to pain or stress to the body, blocking the pain receptors to the brain and minimizing the discomfort of exercise.Endorphins are even associated with a feeling of euphoria which can explain the pumped feeling you can get from a good workout. Runners even use the term ‘runners’ high’ for that post-run feeling.
So does that mean, essentially, you could exercise your way to happiness? Reports show that physically active people do tend to recover quicker from mild depression and the effects of this method compared to antidepressants lasts longer. How intensely or frequently you should work out to prevent symptoms of depression is unclear. However, numerous physicians recommend at least half an hour to an hour of light to moderate physical activity daily to gain the health benefits of exercise such as a healthy heart, improved blood pressure, protecting cognitive function and building self-esteem.
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