These days it’s no secret that hiking delivers heaps of personal benefits. It’s great for your physical fitness, improving your cardiovascular health and building up your leg muscles with low impact movement, plus the benefits of exercising outside – known as green exercise – have been shown to reduce stress and improve your self-esteem. But can the benefits of hiking go beyond how you feel in your own body and mind and also have a positive impact on your relationships with others? Scientists seem to think so, and naturally we wanted to learn more.
Three ways hiking helps your relationships
According to an article in Psychology Today (opens in new tab), indicators of a healthy relationship include characteristics such as trust, communication, empathy and reciprocity, which sound a bit more like things you learn on the psychologist’s couch than the hiking trail. However, a 2017 study by researchers at San Jose University (opens in new tab) examined the effects of taking a 20-minute walk in an arboretum on 27 pairs of mothers and their middle-childhood daughters. Just this short time spent walking in a green space improved cohesion and sense of togetherness between the mothers and their daughters.
These results suggest that getting out on a hike or walk with a friend, family member or partner – even just a short forest stroll – could really improve your bond and sense of connection. There’s a great argument here for hiking with friends and family members to improve your relationships, even if you’re just setting aside one morning or afternoon every couple of weeks to get out in the hills together. Best of all, you can reap these benefits without paying for the expensive vacations that many busy couples and families rely on for bonding time – at most, you might want to invest in a couple of pairs of hiking boots if you plan to tackle tough terrain. Oh, and a compass so you don’t get lost, which could be another relationship ruiner.
You might be wondering here if the main factor in improving relationship cohesion might just be in the spending of time together, and whether these results could be replicated by going to the movies together, or going out for a meal. Certainly, spending time together doing enjoyable activities can benefit your relationships, but a group of four studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (opens in new tab) in 2014 identified that spending time in beautiful, natural environments is what helps with so-called prosocial behavior.
These clinical studies found the participants exhibited more generosity, empathy, trust and helping behaviors – all indicators of healthy relationships – after being exposed to images of nature and potted plants. Imagine then what spending time in a lush forest or near a thundering waterfall somewhere like Olympic National Park can do for you and your loved ones?
But what if hiking for you is really about getting out there by yourself, away from the noise and clearing your head? Do you have to give up some of your precious alone time and start hiking in a group, or can you still get the same benefits on your relationships even if you hike alone?
Well of course, any improvement in your own well being is bound to have a positive impact on people in your life, and exercising in nature in particular is shown to improve people’s self esteem, according to a report in Reuters (opens in new tab). Any time you’re getting your heart rate up in green spaces, even for just a few minutes, you’re building up your sense of personal worth, which according to Psychology Today will help you and your partner maintain your relationship happiness (opens in new tab) over time. So if your loved one doesn’t want to join you, you can let them know that all those hours you spend out in the hills are for the good of your relationship.
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.
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