Walking with my dogs is probably the best part of sharing my life with them.
Rain or shine, hiking the trails and immersing myself in the heart and soul of Mother Nature is a treasured gift that I am grateful to experience every single day. There is something about being in this natural setting, undisturbed by human hands, that brings me great peace. This feeling of mindfulness is not exclusive to me alone; it is clear that my dogs also benefit as they come back from a long hike mentally and physically at peace.
I wager those who spend time hiking through forest trails or traversing mountains (with or without a dog) can also attest to the anecdotal health benefits to the mind, body and soul. The fresh air does wonders to clear out the cobwebs of the mind, leaving one feeling refreshed and revived, and it seems as though science is turning this anecdotal evidence into actual scientific evidence.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a link between mental illnesses and urbanization (decreasing green space for development). Through a regulated experiment, researchers examined whether exposure to nature had an influence on rumination (repetitive negative thoughts focused on oneself) which is a known risk factor for mental illness.
According to the study, “Participants who went on a 90-minute walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and reduced neural activity in the areas of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared to those who walked through an urban environment.” The study further suggested that for healthy mental well-being, accessible natural areas within urban areas is critical.
This may not seem significant to some, but these studies have shown that urbanization is linked to increased levels of mental illness due to a variety of factors, one being continually subjected to noise pollution. It would seem that walking or hiking around the neighbourhood may be good for your heart, but it’s not so good for your mind.
Dogs are also good for our mental health. Again science has proven that there are a number of ways in which the presence of a dog in our lives can assist in improved mental health and there is monumental evidence to back this up. Like spending time in nature, spending time with dogs distracts us from our morose ruminations. Dogs offer us unconditional love and they give us a reason to get out of bed. But perhaps the most significant thing they give us is a judgement-free connection with another being. When it comes to keeping a healthy mindset, this kind of service is invaluable.
It would seem obvious to some that merely having a dog is incentive enough to get out in the great outdoors and get up close and personal with nature, but surprisingly, due to urbanization and the increasingly high-paced lifestyle people are choosing, finding the time to walk their own dog induces anxiety and increases stress rather than calming the mind. Professional dog walkers are the ones reaping the benefits – physically, financially and mentally – as dog owners steep themselves deeper in the urban rush.
To say you are too stressed to walk the dog is ironic, because as science is proving, the act of walking your dog in nature is the quickest and most satisfying way to reduce mental duress.
Living on the North Shore, where nature – at its finest – is literally in your backyard, there is no excuse for not exploring the local trails.
If the idea of walking in nature frightens you, and for some people it does as they have heard hyperbolic stories of bears, cougars and coyotes stalking humans for their dinner, then start with local trails that are popular and, of course, dog friendly. The Baden Powel trail is both dog friendly and popular, so if you are nervous about being in nature this popular trail allows you to frequently come across other humans, probably with dogs, and feel comfortable.
In time, you and your pooch may feel more adventurous and, if so, check out vancouversnorthshore.com for hiking ideas.
If you want to read the entire article cited in this column, including the links to how exposure to nature improves creativity and decreases ADHD symptoms follow, visit collective-evolution.com/2016/04/08/doctors-explain-how-hiking-actually-changes-our-brains.
Happy hiking and namaste!
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.