108 Health Benefits Of Yoga, Meditation, Hiking & Nature
If you’ve ever done yoga or meditation or spent time outside in nature, you know how great it can make you feel!
But do you know why, exactly?
We spent hours reading scientific studies and research to put together this list of the wide range of potential health benefits of doing yoga, practicing meditation and/or getting outside for a hike, including:
Boosting Your Immune System
Lowering Blood Pressure
Reduce Depression & Anxiety
Improve Memory & Focus
Bone & Joint Health
Reduce Pain & Inflammation
And So Much More!
We hope you use this as motivation to start or maintain your own self-care regiment. And feel free to share this list with friends and family who can benefit from adding a little yoga, meditation and nature to their lives.
Although these activities are well researched and low-risk, we recommend consulting your doctor before starting any new physical activities.
We’d also love to know in the comments which of these benefits you’ve experienced!
Namaste & Have A Great Day!
Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga Improves Flexibility: Yoga done mindfully aids in lengthening muscle fibers and connective tissue allowing greater flexibility.
Yoga Improves Muscle Strength: Yoga is an excellent way to gradually strengthen the body as a whole.
Yoga Improves Posture: A yoga practice will help bring greater awareness of how the body works as a whole. That awareness includes how you hold yourself posturely and awareness is the first step to changing the habits we fall into.
Yoga Improves Joint Health - “Motion is lotion” Many of our joints use synovial fluid as a lubrication to create a low friction glide. Synovial fluid is stimulated to be released via movement of the joint.
Yoga Protects The Spine: Many postures in yoga strength core and the erector muscle bundles on both sides of the spine. A strong core and erector bundle creates less “dumping” into the spine and sacrum!
Yoga Improves Bone Health: Muscle attaches to bone via tendons and the constant pulling of tendon on bone via exercise creates a cascade reaction that tells the skeletal system to build more bone and reduce calcium loss!
Yoga Improves Circulation: Blood is the transport system to get oxygen to our entire body, including muscular system. Yoga causes the heart to pump more oxygenated blood to the body!
Yoga Increases Lymphatic Drainage: The contract and release of muscles, and movement of organs as you come in and out of yoga postures acts as a pump to increase lymphatic drainage and filtration!
Yoga Boosts Immune System: Immune systems are compromised with chronic stress and inflammation and yoga helps reduce both!
Yoga Lowers Blood Pressure: Two studies of people with hypertension, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, compared the effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) with simply lying on a couch. After three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number—and the higher the initial blood pressure, the bigger the drop.
Improves Adrenal Gland Regulation: Chronic stress and anxiety increases the triggers the sympathetic nervous system which stimulates adrenal function. Yoga helps maintain a parasympathetic nervous response, reducing stress hormones such as cortisol.
Reduces Stress: Yoga is designed around slow, deep breaths and deliberate movements, both of which help to reduce stressors such as muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Yoga Reduces Inflammation: Another perk of training the body to maintain a parasympathetic (relaxation) response is reduced stress hormones such as cortisol.
Yoga Increases Self-Awareness: Yoga is the intentional movement from one posture to another. Focusing on the “Here and Now” helps to build awareness of what is happening in the body and quiets the treadmill of thoughts we often get caught up in.
Yoga Boosts Confidence: Yoga helps to create a stronger sense of self as competence in postures increase.
Yoga Increases Heart (Cardiovascular) Health: Lower blood pressure and heart rate reduce strain on the heart.
Yoga And Pain Relief: For so many of us who are chronically sitting, just moving through yoga postures alone help to reduce achiness but yoga has shown to also help reduce our perception of pain.
Yoga Reduces Reactivity to Stressors: A stronger sense of self leads to being reactive to stress factors. You become more skilled at becoming the observer instead of the reactionary.
Yoga is a Tool For Developing Non-Religious Spirituality: Yoga is a 2,000 year old technology for developing physical, mental, and spiritual discipline.
Yoga Develops/Strengthens Moral Character: Moral principles and codes of conduct act as guidelines to aid in self-development and support one on the way toward self-realization.
Yoga Promotes Greater Self Control (Restraint): Moderation and managing sensory cravings is the fourth of five yamas (restraints) in yogic philosophy.
Yoga Can Aid in Trauma Recovery (Including PTSD): Yoga helps to reconnect mind with body and develop greater resilience to stressors.
Yoga Increases Concentration & Focus: Our inner focus becomes more honed as a yoga practice grows.
Yoga Decreases Anxiety: Developing a stronger parasympathetic response reduces symptoms of anxiety.
Yoga Offers Greater Coordination: Flowing through yogic postures such as balancing poses help to develop coordination!
Yoga Encourages Greater Self-Love/Ability to Self-Soothe/Resilience: Greater gratitude, less reactivity to stress, more love for self and others are all attributes of a yoga practice.
Yoga Boosts Greater Mind-Body Connection: There are many reasons why our mind and body can become disconnected but yoga reinforces that connection.
Yoga Increases Feelings of Gratitude Towards Others: The better we are able to love ourselves, the greater we can love and feel gratitude toward others.
Yoga Encourages More Mindful Eating: Researchers have found that people who practice yoga are more mindful eaters. Practicing yoga helps you be more aware how your body feels. This heightened awareness can enhance how food smells, tastes and feels in you mouth.
Yoga Encourages Body Positivity: Surveys have found that those who practice yoga are more aware of their bodies than people who don't practice yoga. They are also more satisfied with and less critical of their bodies.
Yoga Can Boost Weight Loss & Maintenance: Researchers found that people who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years, gained less weight during middle adulthood. People who were overweight actually lost weight. Overall, those who practiced yoga had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared with those who did not practice yoga.
Yoga Can Boost Self-Esteem: Yoga has become an integral part in the treatment of eating disorders and programs that promote positive body image and self-esteem.
Yoga Enhances Overall Fitness: Researchers found that after eight weeks of practicing yoga at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes, participants had greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.
Yoga Supports Cardiac Rehabilitation: Yoga is now being included in many cardiac rehabilitation programs due to its cardiovascular and stress-relieving benefits.
Yoga Promotes Peace and Calm: Yogic practices inhibit the areas responsible for fear, aggressiveness and rage.
Yoga Helps Us Unplug: Yoga provides relief from excess stimulation and the stressors and hectic nature of modern life like social media, email and smartphones.
Van Der Kolk, Bessel, A 2015,The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma New York, New York, Penguin Books
Benefits of Hiking & Nature
Contributes to Bone Health: Vitamin D from sunshine plays a role in calcium absorption and the strain of muscle pulling on the tendinous attachment points signals bones to reinforce themselves. Vitamin D modifies the activity of bone cells and is important for the formation of new bone in children and adults.
Regulates Hormones: Physical activity like hiking can strongly influence hormonal health. Vitamin D is actually a hormone despite being called a vitamin.
Aids in managing blood sugar levels & Combats Diabetes: Steady light to moderate exercise helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Earthing (noun): The process of absorbing the earth’s free flowing (-) electrons through the soles of one’s feet. Just take off your shoes and walk around outside! Earthing can help reduce inflammation & stress hormones, help you sleep better and reduce pain.
Boosts Immune System: When we breathe fresh, forest air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which plants give off to protect themselves from insects and fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK.
Tones the Whole Body: Hiking up and down inclines and winding trails gives your whole body a workout - especially the lower body — namely the quads, glutes and hamstrings. Carry a pack to challenge the strength and endurance of your upper body as well.
Improves Cardiovascular Health: Hiking improves circulation by exercising the heart, lungs and blood vessels
Burns Calories: Depending on the level of incline and the weight of the pack being carried, one hour of trekking can burn over 500 calories.
Reduces Risk of High Blood Pressure: Hiking on a regular basis decreases blood pressure and cholesterol and therefore:
Reduces the danger of heart disease, diabetes and stroke for those at high-risk. Hiking downhill is twice as effective at removing blood sugars and improving glucose tolerance.
Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Hiking lowers your blood sugar levels. Hiking gives your muscles a workout, which moves glucose from your bloodstream for energy.
Reduces High Cholesterol and Triglycerides: Clinical studies on aerobic exercises, show that they appear to benefit cholesterol the most, by lowering LDL by 5 to 10% and raising HDL cholesterol by 3 to 6%.
Possibly Reduces Risk of Cancer: Preliminary studies have suggested that spending time in nature — especially forests — may stimulate the body’s production of anti-cancer proteins.
Helps with Depression: Research shows that using hiking as an additional therapy can help people with severe depression feel less hopeless, less depressed, less suicidal and could to lead them towards a more active lifestyle. Public Health Officials in Finland now recommend that citizens get 5 hours a month, minimum, in the woods, in order to stave off depression.
Aids in Weight Control: Movement involving aerobic activity helps burn calories and shed excess weight.
Helps the Body Heal Faster: Research found that patients with "green" views had shorter postoperative stays, took fewer painkillers, and had slightly fewer postsurgical complications compared to those who had no view or a view of a cement wall.
Helps You Focus: Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.
Forest Bathing or Shinrin-Yoku: This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. A 2005 study in Japan found that being around trees had significant positive effects on the subjects’ nervous systems. Forest bathing reduced stress hormone production, lowered blood pressure and heart rate.
Nature Nurtures Us: According to Biophilia, the 1984 book by evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, people have a biological urge to commune with the primordial mother, Earth, which nurtures us. Biophilia comes from the Greek bios, meaning life, and philos, meaning loving.
Reduces ADHD in Children: The part of the brain affected by attention fatigue (right prefrontal cortex) is also involved in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Studies show that children who spend time in natural outdoor environments have a reduction in attention fatigue and children diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms.
Boosts Creativity: Research has shown that spending time outdoors can increase your attention span and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50%.
Encourages Social Connection & Motivation: Hiking with a buddy or group holds you accountable and encourages you to think of it as a lifestyle, rather than just a workout or chore, which will make you more likely to stick with it for the long haul.
Reduces Mental Fatigue: Studies have found that people's mental energy bounced back when surrounded by nature or even when they just looked at pictures of nature. (Pictures of city scenes had no such effect.)
Reduces Inflammation: Inflammation in the body can trigger autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and cancer. Studies conducted with elderly patients indicated reduced signs of inflammation.
Relieve Stress & Boost Energy: Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in natural environments like mountains and waterfalls. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy.
Better Vision: Research in Australia and Taiwan has found that outdoor activity may have a protective effect on the eyes, reducing the risk of developing nearsightedness (myopia) in children.
Improves Self-Esteem: An analysis of 10 different studies on green exercise determined every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood," and "the mentally ill had one of the greatest self-esteem improvements." The presence of water made the positive effects even stronger.
Improves Sleep: Studies have shown that spending time outdoors (especially camping) supports your body’s natural circadian rhythms, the shifts in the body's biological processes that happen over 24 hours, partly in response to light and darkness.
Longevity: While they can’t prove causation, many studies have shown a strong correlation between access to nature and longer, healthier lives. Some factors researchers noted include "recovery from stress and attention fatigue, encouragement of physical activity, facilitation of social contact and better air quality" as well as nature's positive effect on mental health which boosts overall health and longevity.
Fresh Air: Due to air-tight insulation, windows & doors, and the myriad of chemicals and plastics in our homes, most people are exposed to thousands of chemicals, causing indoor air to be up to 70 times more contaminated than outdoor air.
Less Aggression & Homicide Rates: Research in Illinois looked at housing projects with a lot of trees versus those without trees, and found lower rates of aggression and a lower crime rate. It was theorized that living in a place with trees and green space facilitated social connections like neighbors spending more time outside, hanging out in their courtyards and talking to each other.
The Nature Pyramid: Inspired by the nutrition pyramid, the nature pyramid recommends amounts of nature, different nature experiences, and exposure to different sorts of nature, that together constitute a healthy existence.
Calming Effect: Officers at the Snake River Correctional Institution in eastern Oregon report calmer behavior in solitary confinement prisoners who exercise for 40 minutes several days a week in a “blue room” where nature videos are playing, compared with those who exercise in a gym without videos.
Nature Therapy: There is a pilot program in California training pediatricians in the outpatient clinic to write prescriptions for young patients and their families to visit nearby parks.
Reduces Mental Rumination: A Stanford study found that Nature may influence “how you allocate your attention and whether or not you focus on negative emotions.”
Increases Personal Insight & Reflection: Environmental Psychologists at the University of Michigan argue that visual elements in nature like sunsets, streams, butterflies reduce stress and mental fatigue. Such stimuli promote a gentle, soft focus that allows our brains to wander, rest, and “permits a more reflective mode.” The benefit seems to carry over even after heading back indoors.
Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation Reduces Stress: Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons people try meditation.
Meditation Helps Control Anxiety: Meditation involves slow, steady breaths which help to reduce anxiety be decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.
Meditation Promotes Greater Emotional Health: Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation helps with developing resilience to depression and helps to create a more positive outlook on life.
Meditation Increases Awareness of the Unconscious Mind: Some forms of meditation help you develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you grow into your best self.
Meditation Increases Attention: Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention.
Meditation Lessens Age-Related Memory Loss: Kirtan Kriya is a method of meditation combining mantra with repetitive motion to focus thoughts and has been shown to help with age related degenerative memory disorders such as Alzheimer's.
Meditation Generates Kindness and Gratitude Toward Others: Metta meditation is also known as loving-kindness meditation. Twenty-two studies of this form of meditation have demonstrated its ability to increase compassion toward others.
Meditation Helps with Recovery from Addiction: Mental discipline you can develop through meditation may help you to break dependencies by increasing your self-control and awareness of triggers for addictive behaviors.
Meditation Improves Sleep: Becoming skilled at meditation disciplines the mind and helps better control racing or “runaway” thoughts that can keep you up at night. Additionally it can help you relax the body, releasing tension that prevents restive states.
Meditation Helps Control Pain: Perception to pain is linked to state of mind and it can be elevated in stressful conditions. Discipline from meditation helps to control pain signals received.
Meditation Decreases Blood Pressure: Meditation helps to control blood pressure by reducing nerve signals that coordinate heart function, tension in blood vessels, and the sympathetic nervous, “Fight or Flight” response.
Meditation Increases Immune Function: Studies have shown that visualization meditation can increase immune responses in a short amount of time!
Meditation Improves Emotional Intelligence: Through meditation you can safely become more comfortable with emotions that have been avoided in the past.
Meditation Increases Optimism: Staying positive is important! Meditation helps to achieve an overall more positive mindset.
Meditation Buffers Against Impulsivity: Gain discipline to buffer against impulsive actions.
Meditation Strengthens Decision Making & Problem Solving: Studies have shown that people who meditate are able to better focus and score higher on cognitive tests!
Meditation Helps Manage ADHD: Meditation can be used to counteract ADHD.
Meditation Strengthens Information Processing: A meditation practice enhances speed with which attention can be directed and redirected, decreasing response time and increasing processing ability.
Meditation Increases Longevity: Meditation boosts antioxidant molecules such as glutathione as much as 41%.
Meditation Improves Neuroplasticity: The mental training of meditation increases plasticity in the brain.
Improved Visuospatial Processing: With very limited meditation training studies have shown significantly improved visuospatial processing.
Meditation Fosters Creativity: Meditation helps stimulate the neocortex, where we do our creative thinking.
Meditation Decreases Frequency of Inflammatory Disorders: Reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes have been reported in a study of meditation and gene expression.
Meditation Helps to Prevent Asthma, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Mindfulness practice helps to reduce psychological stress which is a trigger for these types of diseases.
Meditation Helps Treat Menopausal Symptoms and Premenstrual Syndrome: Was conclusion in over 20 randomized control studies.
Mindfulness Training Helps with Fibromyalgia
Meditation Changes Gene Expression: Studies have found a range of genetic and molecular differences in people who have regular meditation practice versus control groups.
Meditation Can Reduce Panic Attacks: A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry discovered after 3 months of meditation and relaxation training, 90% of participants diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorder substantially reduced negative symptoms.
Meditation Can Increase Gray Matter in the Brain: MRI scans by Harvard neuroscientists show that the grey matter concentration increases in areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, regulating emotions, sense of self, and having perspective increased after 8 weeks of meditation and mindfulness training.Long-term meditatorsshow a larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of grey matter in other studies.
Meditation Can Reduce Boredom: Katherine MacLean of the University of California led a study suggesting that during and after meditation training, subjects were more skilled at keeping focus, especially on repetitive and boring tasks.
Meditation Can Improve Test Taking in Students: A study of students indicated that after just 20 minutes a day of practice, they were able to improve their performance on tests of cognitive skill. In some cases, the mindful students did 10 times better than the group that did not meditate.
Meditation Can Be More Effective Than Morphine: A study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center determined that Meditation produced a greater reduction in pain (40% in pain intensity and 57% in pain unpleasantness) than morphine or other pain-relieving drugs, which typically reduce pain ratings by about 25 percent.”
Meditation Can Increase & Improve Self-Awareness: Long-term practice of meditation increases grey-matter density in the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.
Meditation Can Improve Memory & Reduce Multitasking: In a study conducted by University of Washington and University of Arizona, a group of Human Resource personnel that practiced meditation and body relaxation techniques for 8 weeks reported lower levels of stress and showed better memory for the tasks they had performed. They also switched tasks less often and remained focused on tasks longer.
Meditation Helps You Deal With Stressful Events: A study conducted with 32 adults that had never practiced meditation before, showed that if meditation is practiced before a stressful event, the adverse effects of stress were lessened.
Meditation Can Reduce Emotional Eating/Obesity: Scientists have been experimenting with Meditation to help manage emotional eating, which prevents obesity.
If you are visiting Asheville, NC and want to put these health benefits to the test, join us for a yoga hike and enjoy yoga, meditation and the beautiful mountains & waterfalls of Western North Carolina!