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Hiking on the brain; hiking for the brain

Recent studies about the effects of hiking and nature have been directed at understanding just how this recreational activity affects both the physiological and mental aspects of our brains. One of the main reasons for this glut of research is because we’re spending so much less time outdoors, overall. The average American child now spends half as much time outside as compared to only 20 years ago. HALF. Only 6% of children will play outside on their own in a typical week. Conversely, kids are now spending almost 8 hours per day watching television, playing video games, or using a computer, tablet, or phone for recreational purposes. That number actually jumps up to 10 hours if you count doing two things at once! Overall, Americans now spend 93% of their time inside a building or vehicle. What hiking does to the brain is pretty amazing., April 11, 2016

... the Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas, has been giving kindergarten and first-grade students two 15-minute recess breaks every morning and two 15-minute breaks every afternoon to go play outside. At first teachers were worried about losing the classroom time and being able to cover all the material they needed with what was left, but now that the experiment has been going on for about five months, teachers say the kids are actually learning more because they’re better able to focus in class and pay attention without fidgeting.  Texas school triples recess time and sees immediate positive results in kids. Scary Mommy, Jan 9, 2016.

In just a couple weeks, I am driving to Arizona where my 10 and 15-year-old grandsons and I will do a three day hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. And hopefully back out again. I'm not worried about Paul and Miles making it, but Grandpa's not getting any younger.

On each of their vacations with me, the boys have been subjected to some sort of physical challenge - climbing Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota, bicycling the tunnels of Wisconsin's Sparta-Elroy trail, or hiking the Temperance River on Minnesota's North Shore. The boys are both in Scouting and luckily have parents who enjoy camping and nature as well. My hope is that the love of being outside will become ingrained. (As a farm kid, I didn't have any problem getting enough "outdoor" time.)

While I have long enjoyed the physical pleasures of walking and being outdoors, I am reading an increasing amount about how important being outside and exercise is for both kids and adults. The link between good physical health and good mental health is pretty well established. If more doctors  prescribes Nikes, they'd need to prescribe fewer anti-depressants, blood pressure drugs, and who knows what else.

We shouldn't be surprised in the least when educational researchers finally discover that recess improves reading scores more than all the basal readers put together?

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Reader Comments (4)

Have a great trip!

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Have been advocating for years that physical activity along with proper nutrition and sleep will do more to raise test scores than all of the other academic interventions combined. Of course, big business can't make a buck from recess, can it?

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Seslija

Once again Doug I am admiring you eloquence, experience, and insight. There are dozens of reports, primarily out of the U.K., sharing the successful implementation of what they call, "The Daily Mile." While the health benefits are obvious, the significant increase in engagement, creativity, and focus is what is catching the attention of educators around the world. My mind comes alive when I am engaged in physical activity. Some of my best thinking takes place during my spin class. Outdoor sports - gotta have them! I'm fully onboard with what you're selling here!

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Schuetz

Hi Sharon,

I have my suspicions profit motives and job security for reading specialists are a dangerous combination that will keep us doing basically the same thing for a very long time. Sigh...


Hi Bob,

Hard for me to imagine a day without some form of exercise. Too important for the mood for me.


May 19, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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