Every wondered why hiking makes you feel good?
A few years ago, I spent one year riding a bicycle across Africa. It was an exciting trip and my first time to take an adventure of this kind. I was also going through a number of personal issues on that trip but cycling long distances every day always seemed to make me feel somewhat better – like therapy.
I tried to explain this to people afterward but it felt self-indulgent:
“Here’s another guy with a life-changing story”
Two years later, I developed an interest in hiking and getting a little more off-the-grid. As a result, I hiked the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland which was very nearly a disastrous trip. In other words, I took all the wrong gear and realized the harsh nature of carrying too much weight on my back
However, I did find a similar experience on that trek to my cycle across Africa. It was hiking and camping every day, while focusing on the simple pleasures in life. What’s more, I realized my appreciation for getting away from the busy road was enough reason to pursue my interest in hiking trails over cycling roads.
Anyway, on to my point:
Understanding the Benefit of Lateral Movement
Another two years later, I spent five months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in America, and it was on this journey that I was finally able to better understand why hiking these long distances left me feeling so good:
Lateral acceleration can stimulate positivity.
We all know that exercise and getting outdoors is good for the body. But it’s the actual sense of movement and impact on the brain that changes everything. For instance, studies show that people who cycle or walk to work are more likely to have a higher sense of well-being than those who drive or take the bus.
But wait, there’s also a neurological explanation for this feeling…
According to Dr. John Kitchin, assimilation stimulates a set of receptors in the inner ear which connects the human body with the centre of earth through gravity. More specifically, small pieces of calcium sit on a membrane here. With every horizontal movement, these small stones begin to roll and this process gives the mind an indication that the body is moving relative to the centre of the earth.
But what does this mean exactly?
I had no idea until I took a few minutes to dissect this diagram…
Why Lateral Movement Can Make You Feel Good
It basically means that the brain feels satisfied by the movement involved with walking, cycling, running, surfing and any other horizontal movement. It also means that when you walk, there’s a continuous feeling that the body is accelerating and if this momentum is constant, this feeling expands and continues to build.
In short, anywhere you can achieve lateral acceleration, you can use this type of movement as a means of meditation.
And there you have it:
Hiking makes you feel good because walking, cycling, running, surfing and any other type of lateral movement is a form of meditation.
Still confused? Here’s a super fun and completely whacky documentary to better explain why hiking makes you feel good. It’s about a millionaire doctor who shunned his materialist lifestyle to take up roller skating and study lateral movement for a living.