WALKING & HIKING
The natural world is constantly giving our brains joy in so many forms. From beaches, forests, parks and mountains, to oceans, deserts and grassy green fields aplenty, our planet has got a lot of variety for us to venture in to. And whilst such activities as a cycle, a hike, a swim or a run will be more preferable for some, it is walking, the most basic forms of exercise, which delights our brains so much.
Walking in nature can decrease the flow of blood to areas of the brain that are associated with mental illness and has shown to decrease the frequency of negative thinking and rumination. It is also associated with boosting memory and cognition.
Aristotle, John Muir and Charles Dickens all took regular walks to keep the creative minds abundant. Aristotle is even reported to have conducted lectures to his eager students whilst walking about the grounds of his school in Athens.
Whilst we all know how good it feels to swim in the sea, you actually don't even need to get in it to reap its benefits. Which is ideal for cold winter days, walking along beside it.
Research shows that even just "staring at the ocean actually changes our brainwaves' frequency and puts us in to a mild meditative state" says psychologist, Richard Shuster. The sound of waves rolling in on to the shore, lightly or heavily, regular and with a sort of whooshing, calming sound, also produces a relaxation response in our brains, stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system.
Swimming or floating in the ocean has huge benefits for our brains, cognitively speaking. And ocean air, because it contains negative ions, also helps to calm a stressed out brain (first discovered in 1932 by Dr Clarence Hansell). Swimming in particular is incredible for producing endorphins and is one of the best activities for improving mental health. It has even be shown (at a strong intense level, for example a lot of laps) to promote 'hippocampal neurogenesis' - the growth of new brain cells in part of the brain that can be harmed by high levels of stress or depression. In addition to all of that, research is showing it can even form new neural connections in the brain. Pretty impressive!
The biggest source of Vitamin D for us humans, as you will probably know comes from sunlight and is extremely good for us. But how does it work? Alex Korb, a neuroscientist and researcher at UCLA says, "Photoreceptors in your eyes react to sunlight by sending messages to parts of your brain that regulate your body's serotonin levels." When seratonin levels rise, we feel happier. The "happy drug" as it is known is also a key player in setting your body's circadian clock, which not only manages your sleep and hunger cycles, but also helps out with cell health and hormone production.
So there we have it. Nature is officially your brain's BFF! Make time for it and watch your mood lift, your mind reset and your happiness grow.
Swimming ref - TheConversation
Vitamin D ref - Shape.com