Is Backpacking Good For Low Mood For Everyone, Or Is It Just Me?
When I was going through the Depressive, Low Mood period of my life, I realised that each time I came back from a day of Backpacking in the hills I felt far better about things than I had before.
I began to wonder if going backpacking itself was the reason that my low mood had lifted, or if it was just associated with me spending time alone with my thoughts.
Backpacking and Hiking have been part of my life since I was very young. We were always an Outdoors family. For as long as I can remember we spent our weekends roaming around the hills with backpacks on taking in the fresh air and beautiful scenery.
We didn’t have much money back then, and it has always been an affordable and healthy way to get away from the stresses and struggles of real life and to recharge our batteries, whether it was backpacking as a group or alone it always had the same positive effect on me.
Is There A Link Between Getting Over Low Mood And Backpacking?
Yes, according to substantial amounts of medical research, there is. Backpacking, Hiking and Walking in the Outdoors is proven to have a beneficial effect on those suffering from Low Mood and Depression.
Backpacking not only improves us physically, but it fosters proven and measurable improvements in both our cognitive functions and our mood.
Studies of test subjects who suffered from Low Mood and constant Rumination on their problems showed that all of them reported a notable improvement in there condition from spending just 90 minutes walking in nature.
You can read the findings of the comprehensive study here…
Is Backpacking A Cure For Depression?
We need to be completely clear on this. Backpacking is not a cure for depression, it is just one of many tools that we can call upon to help us to get over and to help us through periods of depression.
Going Backpacking as part of our treatment plan should be used in conjunction with other vitally important aspects of our treatment such as Therapy (in my case Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)), Medication and of course Support (from our Family, our Friends and from dedicated Health Professionals).
Does Backpacking Help With Stress And Anxiety Too?
Backpacking in nature can improve your low mood and significantly reduce the effects of stress and anxiety in participants.
Spending our spare time backpacking in the beauty and splendour of the outdoors reduces stress, calms anxiety, and can lower the risk of us suffering from low mood and depression according to a study done by researchers from Stanford University.
In addition to backpacking having mental health benefits on our stress and anxiety, it also improves our cardiovascular system, burns off excess fat, reduces body weight and tones up our bodies.
Can Backpacking Stop Rumination?
The habit of Rumination is a modern day curse and can be damaging to our physical and mental wellbeing. Too much time spent ruminating on financial and relationship problems can affect our ability to think straight and can allow us to give incorrect emotional responses to situations.
We need ways to prevent and interrupt rumination now more that ever, and one tried and tested way to do this is to spend time doing outdoor pursuits such as backpacking.
It has been proven that simply by taking yourself out of an Urban environment and walking in nature for just 90 minutes can prevent low mood rumination.
The comprehensive study, eloquently titled: “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation” showed that in a test group of a massive 10,000 people over a 20 year period, being in nature significantly reduced unhealthy rumination in all cases.
Will Backpacking Rewire Our Brains?
Yes, Backpacking and Hiking have been proven to not only rewire your brain, but also to build it up. We actually increase the amount of matter in our brain, just like when we build up our muscles when we backpack or hike regularly.
Recent studies have shown that when we backpack we actually increase the amount of white matter in our brains. The grey matter of our brains is responsible for creating thoughts and memories, and the white matter is the wiring that links the grey matter together.
A decline in white matter is associated with loss of cognitive function and an increase in it is associated with higher levels of cognitive function.
The study showed that the group who walked in nature (Backpackers) increased their white matter significantly compared to those who did not spend time in the outdoors. They also scored significantly higher in memory tests conducted at the end of the study.
Mood Walks is a program designed to encourage and support the mental and physical health of participants through exposure to the healing effects of nature, participation in physical activity and engagement with their community. Participants, such as those at risk of or experiencing mental health difficulties and social isolation, can benefit from participating in the Mood Walks program.
What is Mood Walks?
Mood Walks is a provincewide initiative that promotes physical activity in nature, or “green exercise,” as a way to improve both physical and mental health. Led by the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario, in partnership with Hike Ontario and Conservation Ontario, Mood Walks provides training and support for community mental health agencies, social service organizations and other community partners to launch educational hiking programs, connect with local resources, find volunteers, and explore nearby trails and green spaces.
So Backpacking has shown that it is so beneficial to Low Mood that it can now be prescribed by your doctor!
Is There A Link Between Backpacking And Happiness?
There is definitely a link between Backpacking and Happiness in my opinion, so much so that I wrote about it in my post titled: “Why Hiking Makes Me Happy“. Here’s a snipped below:
According to AmericanHiking.org, a leading Authority on all things Hiking, Walking and the Outdoors, “Endorphins are released by your body during Hiking and Walking that can lift your spirits and keep them there throughout the day and night – keeping your brain as healthy as your body.” It’s obvious that hiking is a great physical workout, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by the mental health benefits that accompany a nice hike.
Could the Endorphins released by Walking be the answer to why Hiking makes me happy? Or is there more to it? After all, I don’t feel as good if instead of walking around the countryside, I walk around the busy shopping centres, complaining a lot behind my wife and daughter (I hate Shopping by the way)….