Take a Hike, It Could Improve Your Health

Jake Dressman

You mindlessly scroll through your Twitter and Instagram feeds because there seems to be nothing else to do. You are bored. You are stressed. You are the average college student. But there is something around you, all around you, that can help.

Right now, your phone screen is whispering in your ear, “look at me, I am your precious.” Consider resisting that urge—it’s terrible for your body and mind.

More screen time is directly linked with a shorter life and cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Not only is screen time shortening your life, it is also making you dumber, hurting your vision, depriving you of sleep, increasing your stress, and it is linked with higher rates of depression and suicide.

So the fact that 3 out of 4 college students are stressed, and 1 of 5 have suicidal thoughts, could be linked to excessive cell phone use.

Instead of sitting cooped up in your dorm room, staring at screens, why don’t you go outside and walk around? It sounds really simple, but one doctor in Washington, D.C., is prescribing his patients to do just that.

Dr. Robert Zarr, pediatrician at Unity Health Care, prescribes his patients with nature hikes. “Our patients, my colleagues, and I have embraced Park Rx with open arms because we are all ready for a positive approach to chronic disease that poses virtually no risk, but both prevents and treats our modern day plagues like obesity, asthma, and mental illness,” Zarr said.

Older generations knew this as common sense, but today we need scientific data to tell us that time in nature is beneficial to our health, and there is quite a lot of it.

Over 40 years of research shows that experiences in nature reduce blood-pressure, allergies, depression, and stress and anxiety, as well as improve people’s immune system and overall well-being.

Natural environments also allow overworked areas of our brain to recover. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, demonstrated this when participants performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days of wilderness backpacking.

“Our brains aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued. When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too,” Strayer said.

There are many places in and around Bowling Green where you can refresh your brain in nature.

Chuck Crume Nature Park, about half a mile from campus, has twenty acres of secluded walking trails. Teeming with squirrels, birds, and an array of trees, this park is the perfect place for WKU students to enjoy a quick hike or immerse themselves in the fall season.

The RiverWalk at Mitch McConnell Park is a scenic trail with a bridge crossing to view the Barren River, and it is less than two miles from campus.

Those looking for greater adventure should check out Shanty Hollow Lake, which is twelve miles off campus and features a beautiful lake and hiking trail that ends at a waterfall. You can rent kayaks and canoes from ORAC in the Preston Center for $18 a day.

Former ORAC member, WKU professor and clinical psychologist Timothy Thornberry, said, “It was great spending time with friends, getting some exercise, and forgetting about exams and research papers for a few hours.”

“Getting outside is just one of many ways students can cope with stress. It will help their mood and help them concentrate when they do sit down to study.”

ORAC also provides transportation and guided hiking trips throughout the year. Mammoth Cave hiking is an upcoming event that will only cost $10-$15.

Students looking to connect with animals as well as physical nature should go to Kentucky Down Under, the home of pettable kangaroos, colorful peacocks, hefty bison, and more. They have a cave system as well as hiking trails to explore, and it is only a 30-40 minute drive from campus.

What are you waiting for? Go explore.