Science says, “Go hiking!” - MelyndaCoble.com

Science says, “Go hiking!”

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I’m following paw prints in the snow as big as my late Malamute’s fuzzy feet. I think about Rigby all the time even though he died two years ago. It’s a little weird. While I am kind of sad, I am mostly wistful. It doesn’t take a psychology 101 class to know that it’s not so much the dog I miss, although he was the greatest dog that ever lived; it’s the experiences I had with him I miss. It’s what he meant to me.

Rigby meant long hikes in the summer and equally long cross-country ski tours in winter. He meant getting outside every day, even when I didn’t want to, and I miss him most when I am on the trail.

The paw prints lead through crusty, white snow contrasted with black tree trunks burned in a fire a couple years ago. They cross a log bridge under gray clouds and head up a small hill. I stick to the packed-down trail and posthole up to my knees as soon as I wander off-trail.

Despite missing my dog, I am really happy. I am almost always really happy when I am moving forward in the woods. I feel like the best version of myself. My mind is clear, my heart is pumping, everything around me is beautiful.

People often say they want to get “out there” when talking about the woods. And I say it too. But I think we all mean that we want to get “in there.” We want to get into the woods, into the mountains, rivers, streams, and brooks. We want to get into the trees, into quiet and solitude, and into our own selves a little bit more.

It’s not so much about getting away, it’s about about being where you are without all the noise and clutter. It’s about being home.

As I reach a spring locally known as the Fountain of Youth, my own personal sunbeam breaks through the clouds and turns the snow to glitter. The plants in the creek are the most vibrant green. It’s almost cliché.

There’s a log across the stream here and I walk above the gurgling water, still bathed in warm light. I briefly think of the people I wish could experience this with me, but know being alone makes it different, and possibly more special.

There have been several articles in the last few years about how time in nature makes people happier, smarter, better looking. Nature walks combat stress while boosting mental well-being. All work-at-home, homeschooling, moms of two high-energy (yet very sensitive) boys need nature walks. All humans need nature walks.

One of the latest studies, published in the journal Ecopsychology found:

"Group walks in nature were associated with significantly lower depression, perceived stress, and negative affect, as well as enhanced positive affect and mental well-being, both before and after controlling for covariates. There were no group differences on social support. In addition, nature-based group walks appear to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress and negative affect while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being."

There’s a reason I feel so good tromping around outside. There’s rationality for missing the adorable dog that got me hiking or skiing several days a week. I didn’t need an explanation for craving time slipping up icy trails, weaving in and out of trees, or listening to chickadees thrill in the middle of winter, but it’s interesting to know that science says I should go hiking.

Sidenote: Why haven’t I heard of Ecopyschology before? I need a subscription!

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