January 17, 2014 posted by

Take A Hike (And Get Smarter)

Take A Hike (And Get Smarter)

I’m always telling you to get outside because it will make you happier. What if it made you smarter, too? Looks like it does. Some research done on 57 adults in various Outward Bound programs in five different states showed that exercising in nature does, in fact, make you smarter. Backpacker reports on how this realization might change the world:

But consider the implications of concrete evidence. What could we do with the “discovery” that nature is an effective, cheap, and zero-side-effect highway to higher intellectual function? Maybe this will translate into daily outdoor time for kids in school. Backpacking Fridays at the office so you can regularly squeeze in those three days on the trail. And who could argue against wilderness protection when we need wild places to help our brains reach full potential? At the very least, it would be a fantastic excuse to get out this weekend.

Now to the methodology. I like to poke fun at scientific studies that are poorly done or use conjecture in their conclusions. This research isn’t even a proper study but I’m going the opposite direction. I think the findings are both compelling and probably very accurate. First, we already have conclusive evidence that exercise helps you brain. Throw nature (and a touch of survival) on top of it and you’ve got a perfect storm for heightened awareness and a greater attention span (was that a bear?!) In this instance, subjects took test before and during their excursions, which varied from hikes to backpacking trips, to mountaineering.

Day one test-takers earned a mean score of 4.14 out of 10; day four subjects, 6.08. That might not sound like a big difference, but in scientific terms, it’s a powerful change. When the data are corrected for variables (like the age of subjects, which can affect results), the experiment shows a whopping 50-percent increase in creative thought.

Not much data beyond that (they had no funding), but I’d say it’s enough. It’s logical. The closer we get to basic survival the smarter we must become. Take this example, for example,

Like most teenagers and twentysomethings, these eight students are used to constant technological distraction at home—one participant, 20-year-old Jeremiah Espinosa, tells me ruefully that he can still feel the cell phone he doesn’t have vibrating in his pocket like a phantom limb. “At home, I don’t go five minutes without doing anything,” says recent college grad Elena Vespoli. “I always have something, and my brain is jumping from task to task and from piece of technology to piece of technology. Out here, you can focus.”

So this weekend, turn your back on technology and get outside. You’re brain will thank you.


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