Everyone has heard cortisol is the major hormone that controls stress in our bodies. For this reason, it gets a bad rep when in reality this hormone is beneficial in the short-term by increasing alertness and activation of what is called our “flight or fight” nervous system. However, long term activity of our stress response and cortisol release is what becomes a problem. This is typical for people that find it hard to truly relax, which allows the brain and body to rest and recover both during our waking hours and sleep.
Researchers have found to be an effective way to lower cortisol levels and as a result stress levels are to go on a hike and more specifically in a riparian zone – near a body of water. A group of hikers in southwest Idaho performed a typical salivary cortisol test before and after their hike which resulted in scientists finding a high correlation between spending time in these riparian zones, cortisol levels and well-being for hikers.
An actionable step we can all take after learning this is that, if we are acutely or chronically stressed it may benefit us to spend some time in nature and more specifically near a body of water.
It wouldn’t hurt for us to get some sun as well! Which is what the next blog will be about!
Opdahl, E., Demps, K., & Heath, J. A. (2021). Decreased cortisol among hikers who preferentially visit and value biodiverse riparian zones. Scientific reports, 11(1), 848. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-79822-w