Many people say hiking in places like Boise’s Camel’s Back trails make them feel less stressed. Now there’s some proof to that theory.
A small team of Boise State researchers have been studying people hiking behind Camel’s Back park by testing their cortisol levels in their saliva. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. Anthropology professor Kathryn Demps says they found that hiking really does lower your level.
“The more of the riparian area, the area near trees and water, that you walk through, the lower your cortisol,” says Demps.
And if you think the area you’re walking through is beautiful, your cortisol also goes down. But if you think it’s an ugly spot, your stress goes up. Demps says that’s a good reason to preserve beautiful areas.
“It also means that we should be concerned about areas becoming degraded and unbeautiful because of all of these awesome what we call Ecosystem Services, things that the environment provides for us,” says Demps. “In degraded landscapes we lose a lot of those, like the benefit of going for a hike.”
Before they started testing hiker’s cortisol in saliva, Demps says the evidence that hiking in pretty places lowered stress was anecdotal. Now they can measure it and learn which environments may need some TLC.
“And I think this is especially important for areas like Camel’s Back that are close to city centers where a lot of people can take advantage of the benefits of being outdoors,” says Demps.