Ah, the great outdoors. Beautiful views, fresh air and nourishment for the soul. Whether you’re scaling mountains or cutting a path through a neighborhood park, hiking offers excellent benefits to all those who partake.

Hiking is incredibly inexpensive, if not free. The vast majority of trails are free, especially at local and state parks. And though some popular state and national parks typically require a fee, day passes are relatively low-cost and cheaper if you go with a group or enter on foot.

Trails are easy to find and accessible to everyone. There are numerous apps and websites where you can enter your location or zip code and a list of nearby trails will show in seconds, filtered by difficulty level, mileage and reviews. Many online trail-finding options even show photos of each trail. Even if you live in a more congested area, there are likely parks in the city with paths, or trails just a short commute away.

Here’s another great perk – there is no special equipment needed for hiking, just comfortable shoes and a water bottle will do. Unless you’re interested in a more strenuous hike with longer mileage or significant elevation change, there is no training necessary before you begin.

Hiking is cheap, accessible and requires no special skills or training. And not only is hiking easily doable, it can also have a tremendous effect on your mental health. Here are four easy ways that hiking can help improve your mental health.

1. Physical health affects mental health

Hiking is a workout you can incorporate into your regular routine that is less dull and repetitious than going to a gym. Making hiking a part of your lifestyle can have a long-term impact on your overall bodily health, and your body and mind are integrally intertwined. Any investment in your physical health is an investment in your mental health.

2. Time to self-reflect

There may be no better opportunity to process your thoughts than when you’re hiking. The endorphins released when you exercise are more likely to sway your thoughts in a positive direction, so it’s much healthier than musing over your thoughts when you’re trying to fall asleep. If you struggle with negative thinking patterns, the best time to confront those thoughts may be while you’re engaging in a mindless activity like walking or hiking. Of course, these thoughts are always important to bring to your professional counselor, but addressing them on your own time is part of the work involved, too.

Additionally, the ease and rhythm of your walking can help you to clear your mind of distracting thoughts and focus in a meditative way on the things that matter most. Some incredible self-reflection can occur when you’re out in nature. You may achieve a new perspective, or find a sensation of peace that has long eluded you.

3. A pro-social activity

In the mental health community, you’re likely to hear the phrase “pro-social activity.” This is a way mental health professionals describe activities that are both enjoyable and beneficial to a person’s mental and physical health. Going to a yoga class is a pro-social activity, while visiting a bar when you’re trying to stay sober is not a pro-social activity. Pretty simply, hiking is considered an activity that leaves you with those warm feelings of having done something fun without the risk of jeopardizing your mental health.

Hiking is also a great way to meet pro-social people or to spend time with the supportive people in your life. Hiking alone might be more contemplative, but when you’re checking out a new trail it’s always safer to go with a buddy. Invite a friend who is supportive of your sobriety, or consider joining a club. Hiking clubs are common and are available for all levels, from casual beginners to adventure fanatics. Find one that feels comfortable, they’ll be happy to have you!

4. Promotes a sense of self-confidence

Often when working on mental health goals, it can feel like accomplishments and progress are hard to come by and the whole process is too overwhelming. Facing these challenges can really wear a person down and affect a person’s sense of self-confidence. Hiking can help you to face those insecurities and setbacks and give you a positive impression of yourself. Finishing a long trail or standing on top of a mountain will help crush any feelings of inadequacy.

Always prioritize your safety while hiking. Being prepared can help you to avoid any anxiety while you’re out exploring, so always remember to bring enough water and food, stay on the marked trail and hike with a buddy when possible. Check the weather, dress accordingly and only hike during daylight with good visibility.

Achieving sobriety through fortified mental health

Overall, hiking can do amazing things for your well-being and mental health. Although the best way to address mental health concerns is always with the guidance of your mental health professional, hiking can be a part of the daily work you put in to achieve your mental health and sobriety goals. With the ease and accessibility of hiking, and the numerous physical, social and mental benefits, you’re bound to enjoy the experience and come back for more. While you’re at it, snap some awesome pictures on your hikes to remind you of these mental health victories.

If you’re serious about achieving sobriety, Real Recovery is ready to help. Call 1 (855) 363-7325 today, or reach out to learn even more about achieving and maintaining sobriety.