From an evolutionary standpoint, humans were made to be in nature. Our ancestors only sought shelter to keep from predators or harsh weather conditions. As hunter-gatherers, they were otherwise outdoors all day. What a long way we've come since then, but maybe they knew something we don't. Nature is a very important part of our lives, yet many of us seem to have lost that natural connection. Maybe it's time to get back to it. Personally, I've always loved being outdoors, but I did not discover exactly how much it affected me, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, until I found myself living in the middle of paradise last year - New Zealand. It was impossible NOT to be outside there, nature just beckoned, and there were so many gorgeous accessible places to explore. I could have an entire beach or trail entirely to myself any time of any day. And because work hours were shorter, I had the opportunity to be outside most days.
Research has shown that spending time in nature has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, promotes a healthier microbiome, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and supports a stronger immune system. Similarly, exercise has those same healthy effects. So it makes sense that exercising while taking in nature might have additive benefit. Moreover, hiking is a meditative activity - the repetitive motion of each step brings calm while decreasing cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in the body. Regular exposure to natural environments boosts mental health as well. Studies have shown decreased incidence of anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. Being in nature, especially alone in nature, provides much needed time for contemplation. In our busy lives, this is one thing that everyone could use more of. And perhaps best of all, it is absolutely free, and readily available any time of day! So whether you live in small town New Zealand, or in a bustling city like Charlotte, find a park or a trail and get out to take a hike. See what benefits you notice in your life.