Given data suggesting that youth mental health continues to decline (such as the recently published results of the CDC’s biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey), parents and community leaders are working to identify ways that can improve children’s and teens’ well-being. Hiking is one accessible activity that families in Central Pennsylvania can incorporate into their summer plans to promote mental and physical well-being. Hiking may benefit mental health by increasing kids’ physical activity and resilience, as well as exposing them to sunlight and green spaces.
Children and teens are recommended to engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. Physical activity is important for a variety of reasons, such as strengthening bones and muscles, regulating blood sugar levels, and maintaining heart and lung health. Exercise is also important for brain health. It has been shown to lower the risk of depression for young people, as well as reduce stress, boost self-esteem and concentration, and improve sleep. Hiking is an example of an aerobic exercise that can help kids (and adults) meet their movement needs.
Resilience is the ability to overcome and adapt to significant hardship. Setting and accomplishing goals, mastering skills, and finding purpose are all important components of resilience-building. They are important components of hiking, too! Being out on the trail requires physical and mental endurance, problem-solving skills, and the ability to adapt to changing conditions. Hiking can also foster awe and appreciation for the natural world, leading to increased feelings of gratitude and a sense of purpose. In addition, learning new skills and overcoming challenges can boost self-esteem and confidence.
Hiking allows youth to get outside and explore their natural surroundings. Exposure to natural sunlight regulates children’s body clocks (also called their circadian rhythm). This helps to make them feel alert and awake during the day and sleepy at night, leading to improved sleep and mental well-being. Getting so-called “green time” out in nature has also been associated with reduced anger and stress, as well as increased attention, mindfulness, and happiness.
Getting started with hiking has never been easier. Centred Outdoors offers a variety of guided hikes suitable for all skill levels at beautiful locations throughout our region. These hikes are a great way to meet your neighbors and get comfortable with shorter hikes in a group setting.
Connecting with others through group hiking opportunities – like those offered through Centred Outdoors – has added mental health benefits. High levels of loneliness have been linked to a number of poor physical and mental health outcomes, including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and substance use problems. In contrast, meaningful socialization and the development of a social support network are related to reduced stress and depression, as well as increased resilience.