Activity is high on the list of mood stimulants, and if you’ve ever taken part in a programme of training you’ll know of the post-exercise ‘high’. Medical research confirms that depression responds to activity - and it can be especially beneficial if it takes in strenuous exertion outdoors. (Read more about the studies here and here).
Exercise has a people-dimension too – companionship, a walking partner, a group around us – all these factors put something in our life that a lot of modern work-lives take out.
Walking, trekking, rambling, hiking, tramping – whatever you call it, the activity of forward movement through a wild landscape has its own special rewards. Time outside is time when you can let your senses appreciate the world around you. Unplugged from machines and open to sensory stimulus, you’ll pick up more sounds, the small movements of wildlife, the feel of breeze or rain on your skin, the expanse of sky or the view from the top when you reach your goal.
And don’t underestimate the healthy effect that time away from the hectic routine can have on your mind. Some people find they work out problems while they walk, or that they feel much readier to get back onto something that seemed impossible before. It’s not something conscious – it’s as if the body working gives the brain time to rest, reflect and resolve.
Walking with a friend or a small group doubles the pleasure – other people share the route-planning, the decision-making and the chores if you camp overnight.
Beautiful sights are intensified when there’s someone to show them to, and it’s a safety feature too – someone is there with you if you need help. After your hike, and maybe weeks or even years later, there’s someone to talk over the day and to recall the challenges and highlights.
Make sure you carry essentials to be safe if you’re caught out – a small first aid kit, water, some high energy snacks and a waterproof layer. Before you set out, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back – that way if anything happens the alarm will be raised quickly.
Check the forecast and be prepared to change your plan, even to cancel, if there’s bad weather coming – maybe you’ll find a shorter or lower level route that gives you just as much pleasure. And set out early, to leave maximum daylight for your hike, so that you can enjoy it and not feel you have to hurry back.
If you’re on a marked route, stay on the path. This is how we reduce the eroding effect of our hikes, and it makes sure that fragile plants, ground-nesting birds and underground burrows don’t get crushed by straying feet.
Always make sure any fires are completely extinguished with water and earth before you leave them – and in dry conditions, don’t make fires at all. Wildfire is one of the most devastating destroyers of natural life, and many of them are caused by careless campers and hikers. Of course, take your litter home – no-one wants to see a natural environment littered with plastic. And any waste food or natural products should be buried cleanly away.
Walking is a pleasure in itself, but little treats will definitely help on a long trail – a bar of chocolate, a cup of coffee, or even a nip of whisky as you settle on the peak to admire the view – all make that golden moment glow just a little more. Treat yourself at the end of the day, too – freshen up and unwind with Weleda’s Arnica Sport Shower Gel and feel the sore muscles relax.
There’s much more to hiking, but that’s what you need to discover for yourself. Get a taste for the simplest form of exercise and enjoy the reward. It’s just being with nature and putting your body to the test – that’s what feels so good.