The Healing Power of Hiking + Georgia’s Best Trails

by | Jun 12, 2023 | Adulting, Anxiety, Counseling, Highly Sensitive People (HSP), Stress

The Healing Power of Hiking + Georgia’s Best Trails

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We’ve all been there: knowing that working out has positive benefits on our mental health but failing to implement a workout routine or feeling unmotivated to get moving. Did you know that going on a simple walk out in nature could be more beneficial than exercising on a treadmill? [1] That’s right! Going on a walk is just as good for your health as a 10-step workout regime complete with the totally tasty pre-workout powder. 

Overall, walking has ample physical benefits. In addition to boosting our immune systems and lessening joint pain [2], walking also has a great effect on our mental health. For example, walking has been proven to contribute to a lower risk of depression [3]. If you are contemplating working out but have no motivation to actually get to the gym, consider going on a brisk walk. Even if you get about half of the weekly recommended exercise through a brisk walk, you are making a healthy choice, physically and mentally. A study conducted at the University of Michigan illustrates that being in nature for as little as 20 minutes can lower cortisol [4], the stress hormone.

This sounds pretty nice, right? Let this be your sign to go on a walk to help reduce stress and improve your physical body! What if I told you that you could make things even better? Take your fantastic walking exercise to the next level by moving from the sidewalk to a beautiful location out in nature.

Being out in nature opens up the door to even more benefits to your mental health. In general, if you are particularly stressed (or not!), walking in nature can be better than walking on a treadmill, or around your neighborhood. 

Walking in nature can elicit several cognitive benefits[5] such as: 

  • Better memory performance
  • Improved attention & concentration abilities
  • Lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels

All in all, taking a break from the hustle of our lives can improve our cognitive abilities and reduce our stress levels, so we can go back to work even better than before! When you’re out in nature, you are able to be more present in your surroundings and you are in an environment that cultivates mindfulness. We can really spend time thinking about and appreciating the beauty of our home. Being in this state of mindfulness can help us handle our mental health. If you are really worried about your future or harping on the past, you can take a moment to calm down and be mindful of the simplicity of nature around you. Take a deep breath and enjoy the beauty of this planet! 

In terms of mental health benefits [1], walking can: 

  • Positively affect anxiety and depression
  • Lower stress levels
  • Improve your mood
  • Increase your empathy & cooperation [5]

So, combine the benefits of walking as exercise and just being out in nature! Walking or hiking on a nearby trail can bring so many benefits to your daily life and ameliorate much of your stress or simply bring a little joy and peace to your day-to-day schedules. 

Additionally, beyond the physical, cognitive, and mental health benefits, walking can [5]: 

  • Increase general happiness & well-being
  • Influence positive social interactions
  • Instill a sense of meaning and purpose in life
  • Help reduce loneliness or social isolation
    • This happens if people feel more connected with the environment around them – this sense of connection can be just enough to make someone feel comforted

By going on a walk, especially in nature, we unplug from the noise of our daily lives [4]. When on a nature walk, you may be distracted enough to forget about the rectangular device in your pocket, or your battery-drained laptop sitting on your desk back home. Look around you – take in the fresh foliage and the movement of the wind through the leaves. Smell the fresh air and the plants or flowers surrounding you. Listen to the birdsong and the crisp sounds of the leaves and dirt crunching under your feet. If you’ve been feeling particularly anxious or stressed, you can incorporate your surroundings with the 54321 senses exercise to help calm you down. 

For those of you who would rather not walk in isolation, bring a friend with you. Walking can be a great time to have fruitful and intentional conversations with one another. It’s also great to have a walking buddy to feel safe. Don’t feel pressured to fill up any moments of silence, though. Just enjoy each other’s presence! 

If you can’t get to an elaborate mountain or forest trail, look for any green spaces in your living area, such as a park. When or if possible, try to make a trip to the mountains or countryside to get a stronger dose of nature’s remedy. If you live close enough to make a weekend-getaway drive to the mountains, plan a cozy weekend in the fall to enjoy the fall leaves while on a breathtaking – visually and physically – hike. 

Had enough of green spaces? Studies show that blue spaces are equally, if not more, beneficial than green spaces [5]. For aquatic environments, look for any local lake or river and take a stroll by it. The underlying point here is to get your blood pumping and calm your mind.

If you live in the state of Georgia, here are some great hiking and walking trail spots you can definitely check out! 

  • Yonah Mountain:
    • Quite a long hike up the mountain, but wait until you get to the top!
    • Once you get to the mountaintop, you will have a 360° view of the scenery above and below.
  • Tallulah Gorge State Park: 
    • Hike the trail along the gorge to view a beautiful waterfall.
  • Amicalola Falls State Park: 
    • This State Park houses a gorgeous huge waterfall.
    • The hike consists more of stairs than trails, so be ready for a workout! 
  • UGA Botanical Gardens: 
    • Not up for intense hikes? Take a simple hike on cozy trails along a river surrounded by tall trees.
    • You even have the option to choose your preferred trail length as you walk! You can take shortcuts to end early or extend your walk by a mile or so.

Next time you’re feeling down, overwhelmed, or just need to take a break, go on a walk outside in nature!

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.


[1] Kompf, J. (2022, December 18). The added health benefits of walking in nature. Psychology

[2] 5 surprising benefits of walking. Harvard Health Publishing. (2022, August 25).

[3] DeAngelis, T. (2022, November 1). Want to boost your mental health? take A walk. Monitor on
Psychology. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/11/defeating-depression-naturally  

[4] LaBier, D. (2022, August 29). Walking outside: 3 practices that enhance your wellbeing.
Psychology Today.

[5] Weir, K. (2020, April 1). Nurtured by nature. Monitor on Psychology.

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