Hiking for Mental Acuity

The summer has just come to an end, and with it our Pacific Northwest hiking season is waning. As the weather gets colder and precipitation begins to fall, we won’t have as many great hiking opportunities. Thankfully though, I can look back on many outdoor adventures I had this year and know that I got the most out of the sunshine while it was here.

View from the backside of Oyster Dome

This is a “Smart” blog. Why is this in the Smart category? Because Smart is about mental fitness. That’s my concept of intelligence and thoughtfulness, knowledge, reason, logic–all the stuff of the mind–being just as important to train and develop as the things of the body.

Ok, so we can’t actually pretend that the mental and physical are at all separate. The mental benefits of hiking actually come from the physiological effects of the activity. Think about it. You’re moving blood, circulating fresh oxygen throughout your body and removing waste products with every step and every breath. That means your brain is getting flushed too. On top of that, you’re breathing that really good, fresh tree-oxygen. You’re circulating lymph (Google it). You’re looking at a lot of different things, some close and some far, which exercises the muscles of your eyes and stimulates the visual processing areas of your brain. Need I say more?

Your body might be hurting from the steep uphills and repetitive impacts of stepping–maybe chafing from the backpack straps–but your mind is in a wonderland. You’re thinking more clearly than you have in a long time.

“Mental Acuity” is a phrase that refers to the brain’s ability to respond to stimuli. It’s another word for sharpness or clarity: the ability to quickly and properly respond to something that demands thought. This ought to be the primary goal of a healthy lifestyle, because–even if your daily life demands nothing physical from you–everyone needs this sharpness.

Going for a hike, getting out in nature, moving your blood, flexing your feet against the varied textures of the terrain, stimulating your nervous system, staying alert to all the little sounds and movements in the woods around you, this is a brain workout as much as it is a body workout.

When you return from your hike, now you’re ready to make that big decision. It’s time to have that important conversation or attack that critical project. Now that your mind is refreshed and alert, you’re thinking more clearly than ever. Take this as another great (even greater) reason to go hiking: for mental acuity.

Published by nicnakis

Nicholas |nik-uh-luhs| n. a male given name: from Greek words meaning "victory of the people" John |jon| n. a male given name: from Hebrew Yohanan, derivative of Yehohanan "God has been gracious" Nakis |nah-kis| n. a Greek family name derived from the patronymic ending -akis (from Crete) Amha |am-hah| n. an Ethiopian given name meaning "gift", from Geez Selassie |suh-la-see| n. Ethiopian name meaning "trinity", from Geez

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