During covid, a lot of people gave up their gym memberships and some also gave up their exercise routines entirely. A lot of routines were disrupted, but it also gave us some good time for reflection and a change to refocus on what really matters. Getting outside for a walk or a hike offers a physical workout and mental health advantages – while also allowing for social distancing!
Why is hiking good for your mental health?
Fresh air and exercise, combined with the focus and mindfulness of a hike, is good for your body and mind, mood, and even your sleep quality. The relaxed go-at-your-own-pace of the outdoors relieves stress and anxiety, lets you find new perspective, and channels discipline.
Walking and hiking also affords us a set time to disconnect from our devices. You’ll enjoy vista views and, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot some wildlife – then you can imagine how they feel living their best desert life and see if you can match some of those vibes. Maybe you’ll snap a few great photos to share on your socials that’ll inspire others to get outside too.
In the fall and winter in The Valley, the weather is simply beautiful.
Some may enjoy the heat of the summer, but getting outside in the cooler months has added benefits. A regular winter hike helps to relieve the seasonal blues caused by the shortened daylight hours. Getting outside during the daytime give you a good dose of vitamin D which helps the body and mind alike. And when you connect with nature and your surroundings, it lowers cortisol (stress) levels and increases helpful dopamine (happiness) levels.
Hiking is good for depression year-round. This is because you’re doing the opposite of what depression wants you to do – which is NOT isolating. And when you’re exercising, you’re releasing endorphins and working in mindfulness, so you are focusing on pleasure senses instead of any negatives.
A hike is a great social activity, especially with visitors in town.
Arizona has a unique landscape that visitors really enjoy and will *almost always be grateful you shared your favorite trails with them. A hike can also be a fun adventure on a date night… put on a head lamp and do the Piestewa Peak summit trail in the dark if you are daring. It has perfect view for stargazing and your eyes will adjust to the darkness (or so I’m told by my boys)!
Going for a solo walk or hike can be used as an active meditation.
Francine Shapiro, PhD, was walking in the park in 1987 when she realized that eye movements appeared to decrease the negative emotion associated with her own challenges. That is truly how EMDR therapy originated!
You see, when we scan our environment as we walk/run from right to left, it provides bilateral stimulation (like EMDR). And when you focus on a challenge or a worry while you’re walking and scanning, it helps you naturally makes sense of and reprocess the situation/thought in a more helpful way. So, walking with mindfulness can be very therapeutic indeed!
Some of our favorite Valley hot spots include:
Hikes: Camelback Mountain, Gateway Trail, Sunrise Trail, Piestewa Peak, and Toms Thumb
Walks: South Mountain Park, Canal Trails, North Mountain Trail 100 Loop, Phoenix Mountain Preserve Trail 8, Piestewa LV Yates Trail Loop, & Papago Park
A few tips for hiking in the Arizona…
Don’t forget to bring PLENTY of water. Bring a CHARGED cell phone. Stay on the trail. Wear proper shoes, sunscreen, and a hat. Check the weather forecast before you head out – even Arizona has surprise storms that can catch even experienced hikers off-guard. And ALWAYS let someone know where you’re planning to go and when you’re planning to be back.
The Walk & Talk Therapy Option – In case you didn’t know!
In the cooler months, I am open to walk and talk outdoor therapy sessions around my office park – venturing back out by the wash and around to the front by the fountain. Walking during therapy can help improve focus and the ability to communicate emotions and thoughts. It’s great for people with ADHD because traditional therapy (sitting on a couch) can be challenging, especially after a long day of school or work. Walk/Talk therapy sessions are also helpful for those with heightened irritability from anxiety. Teens also find a walk and talk outdoors less intimidating because it’s a more natural, distracting setting and less eye contact is required. Let me know if you’d like to try a walking therapy session – just so long as the weather is nice on any given day.
So, now you know that getting out is good for so many reasons!
I encourage you to get out as often as you can so long as you have the time to invest. It’s a form of self- care and self-care isn’t selfish. Your body and mind will surely thank you!