Tuesday, August 30, 2016

One for us: Hit the Trail with Alltrails

Our jobs are stressful. There are many aspects of our work that we take home and let spin in our minds, which is not so healthy. I have long been an advocate of work in mindfulness both for us and our students, but recently I have also discovered hiking. Something about my love of maps, a good view, staying mindful, and the nice little rush that comes with some cardiovascular exercise comes together when I hike. Before I lose some of you, hiking can range from walking beside a beach or in a gently graded field to scrambling up or down rock piles, so there is something for everyone. In the past several years, this interest has re-awakened as I had opportunities to hike up Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Diamond Head in Waikiki, and a bunch of awesome trails this summer in Acadia National Park.

Did you know that there is some actual science behind the benefits of walking in nature? Check out this abstract:

More than 50% of people now live in urban areas. By 2050 this proportion will be 70%. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world. (Bratman, et al, 2015)

Travel can bring you to some great places to hike easy or harder trails, but as this study suggests, just accessing a nearby "nature experience" can make a difference in our thinking patterns. So, to bring in the tech part that you all expect from me, I'll refer you to the free (but with premium features if you want them) Alltrails website and mobile app. Create an account and you'll have access to search features to find many nature experiences near you. Filter to find easy vs. moderate or hard trails, read hiker reviews, and explore trail maps. I highly recommend having the app installed on your phone; tapping "Directions" will launch Google Maps to bring you directly to any trailhead (in hiker parlance, where you park and start) and the GPS will show you where you are on the trail map itself, should you need a little guidance.


For me, this great app has given me some ideas of places I've started to explore right in my backyard, such as the network of trails in the Blue Hills Reservation (10 minutes away from my house).

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