City life stressing you out? Here’s the trick to relieving stress & anxiety

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If walks aren’t part of your fitness plan, they should be. Walking is a fitness “no brainer,” especially as you age. As I’ve written previously, walking has numerous health benefits, including helping you live longer. It’s also good for your mental health.

Sometimes, though, your brain needs more than a walk around your neighborhood, especially if you live in the city. Sometimes you need a hike.


So what’s the difference between walking and hiking? It’s pretty simple. While you can walk indoors on a treadmill or outdoors in you neighborhood or local park, hiking tends towards longer walks on natural terrain which sometimes include elevation changes. Hiking burns double the calories of walking, but its benefits don’t stop there.

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Hiking’s Mental Benefits

Consider this 2015 study, which examined the effects of hiking in nature on city dwellers’ rumination, the act of “being in your head,” having racing thoughts or constantly overthinking things:


More than 50% of people now live in urban areas. By 2050 this proportion will be 70%. Urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, but it’s not yet clear why. Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.


Another study in Japan compared people sitting in natural surroundings with people sitting in urban surroundings. The results of the study are striking, and show a meaningful reduction in various measures of stress:


As a result, these subjects sitting in natural surroundings showed decreases in the following physiological indices compared with the urban control group: 12.4% decrease in cortisol [Alex’s note: this is the “stress” hormone] level, 7.0% decrease in sympathetic nervous activity, 1.4% decrease in systolic blood pressure, and 5.8% decrease in heart rate. This shows that stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy. It should also be noted that parasympathetic nerve activity increased by 55.0%, indicating a relaxed state.

What’s really amazing about this is the people in the study weren’t actually exercising, but just sitting in nature. So when you’re out for a hike, consider stopping to enjoy the scenery or take some time to sit and mindfully enjoy your surroundings.

Hiking in the City

Based on the research, taking frequent hikes sounds like a great idea. For many city dwellers, though, it may not seem realistic to take time to leave the city. But a good hike can be closer than you think.


I live in an urban area of more than 7 million people, but I’ve been able to find ways to be with nature. You just have to be deliberate.

I remember a particularly stressful day several months ago. Around lunch time, I chose to disconnect and go for a walk. There’s a trail near my house that winds uphill through woods along a creek. It had rained all night, but the sun had come out, and it was cool.


That day in the woods, water was running off down the gullies on the hill, toward the creek. About halfway through my walk, I stopped by one of the gullies and listened to the sound of the water. The woods felt alive after the rain. The simple act of stopping on my urban hike to take in the surroundings and listen to the sounds of the nature was incredibly relaxing, and I could feel my stress melt away.

If you explore your neighborhood, you might be surprised at what you find. Don’t just stick to the sidewalk—look for local trails if you have them, or take a walk in the woods.


You also don’t have to limit yourself to your neighborhood. Another great way to find nature in the city is to look for a nature preserve or sanctuary. Within thirty minutes of my house there are numerous nature preserves, where you can completely disconnect from the city and hike on rugged trails.


Hiking Day Trips

Sometimes, you just need to get out of the city, and weekends are perfect for hiking day trips. With a little research, you’ll be able to find the best hiking spots in your region.


In Texas, for example, we’ve got an amazing state park system, and you can even buy a yearly pass that gets you into all of them. I enjoy visiting different state parks, grabbing a trail map from the park ranger and exploring the various trails.

If you’re new to hiking, here are a few helpful tips:

  • If you’re going on a longer hike—more than a few miles—don’t forget a snack and lots of water. You’d be surprised how many people fail at this basic concept, despite numerous signs warning you to bring water. The last thing you want is to be a long way into a hike without anything to drink or eat, especially if it’s warm. If it’s hot, you’ll want water even on a short hike.
  • Hiking trails will usually have a difficulty rating assigned to them, so be sure to check the trail characteristics before you head out. Don’t be afraid to ask a park ranger for more details.
  • Be sure to wear the right shoes. Trail shoes or hiking boots are recommended. I’ve learned this the hard way on some more rugged hikes. I once tried to break in a pair of sneakers on a hike, and ended up with searing pain in my Achilles tendon for the last four miles of an eight mile hike.
  • Consider using an app like AllTrails, which includes people’s reviews, photos and maps of hiking trails.


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The one trail you should hike in every state


Most of us have limited our travel this year due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay cooped up indoors. In fact, hiking can be a great way to get some outdoor exercise while keeping your distance from other humans.

We looked exclusively at hikes that are 10 miles or less total, so you don’t have to spend longer than an afternoon on the trail. Plus, each trail on this list offers something more than just exercise — we’ve also included the thing you must see on each trail.


Halfpoint / istockphoto


Where: Cheaha State Park

Distance: 2.3-mile loop

Must see: Wander along the streambank to the Rock Garden Outlook, where you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the Talladega National Forest.




Where: Talkeetna Lakes Park

Distance: 3.5-mile loop

Must see: In the fall, this is the prime spot to go blueberry-picking. This trail circles X Lake and takes you through beautiful old-growth forests where you’re bound to see wildlife and can enjoy fishing.


Courtesy of Official State of Alaska Website


Where: Coconino National Forest

Distance: 4.5-mile loop

Must see: This trail passes two natural arches, the Seven Sacred Pools and Devil’s Kitchen, which is the largest sinkhole in Arizona.




Where: Mount Magazine State Park

Distance: 3.7 miles out and back

Must see: Catch some of the best scenery in the state here: This trail crosses several creeks that lead to waterfalls. Other sights include WPA steps and Sunrise Rock.


Courtesy of Official Arkansas State Parks Website


Where: Runyon Canyon Park

Distance: 1.9 miles to 3.3 miles, depending on loop

Must see: This popular hike offers panoramic views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign — on clear days you can see all the way to the Pacific. Consider fueling your hike with an almond latte from the best local coffee shop. Go Get ‘Em Tiger, and keep your eye out for celebrities along the path.


Courtesy of Official Los Angeles Park Parks Website


Where: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Distance: 1 mile out and back

Must see: You can get up close and personal with a majestic waterfall and enjoy breathtaking views of the dunes on this short trail, which includes wading into a rock crevasse.




Where: Bigelow Hollow State Park

Distance: 6-mile loop

Must see: Enjoy beautiful views of Mashapaug Lake and Bigelow Pond in one of the largest forest areas in Connecticut.


Courtesy of Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection


Where: Cape Henlopen State Park

Distance: 5.2 miles out and back

Must see: This walk takes you along an elevated boardwalk over miles of marshland and dunes.


Courtesy of


Where: Big Talbot State Park

Distance: 1-mile loop

Must see: Stop at the midway point of this short loop to take in the spectacular rocky shoreline with tidal pools and bluffs.


Courtesy of Florida State Parks


Where: Black Rock Mountain State Park

Distance: 2.2-mile loop

Must see: Walk through the wildflower-filled forest in Georgia’s highest elevation park to check out the view at Tennessee Rock overlook.


Courtesy of Georgia Department of Natural Resources


Where: Waimea Canyon State Park

Distance: 3.2 miles out and back

Must see: Observe the “Grand Canyon of Hawaii,” a majestic canyon on Hawaii’s Westernmost island.


Pawel Gaul/istockphoto


Where: Sawtooth National Forest

Distance: 8.3-mile loop

Must see: Enjoy gorgeous river and waterfall views on this scenic, family and dog-friendly trail. Come back in the winter for great skiing right off the trail.


Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture


Where: Shawnee National Forest

Distance: 3-mile loop

Must see: This canyon descent features beautifully carved sandstone rock, waterfalls and rivers.

Shawnee National Forest in Illinois by Scenic View (CC BY-SA)

Where: Hoosier National Forest

Distance: 5.8-mile loop

Must see: There are a number of great waterfalls to check out, but the must-see is Hoffman Falls.


Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service


Where: Mines of Spain Easement

Distance: 0.9-mile loop

Must see: Make sure to check out the Julien Dubuque monument at the North end of the trail and the old quarry at the South end of the trail, which lies along the Mississippi River.


Courtesy of Friends of the Mines of Spain


Where: Shawnee Mission Park

Distance: 6.5-mile loop

Must see: This stunning trail boasts a beautiful dammed lake – Lake Lenexa – and is great for hiking, biking or horseback riding.


Courtesy of Official Johnson County Website


Where: Daniel Boone National Forest

Distance: 3.4-mile loop

Must see: Enjoy remarkable views of the forest and the famous Gray’s Arch.


Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service


Where: Comite River Park

Distance: 4.9-mile loop

Must see: Experience the wonders of the Bayou on this wonderful riverside trail, but be sure to load up on insect repellant — it can get muggy.


Courtesy of Parks & Recreation in East Baton Rouge Parish


Where: Acadia National Park

Distance: 1.4-mile loop

Must see: The birds are what you can’t miss here. Be on the lookout for puffins and black-throated green warblers.


Zack Frank/shutterstock


Where: Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park

Distance: 4.5 or 6.5 miles, depending on the loop

Must see: You’ll definitely want to see the historical Civil War artifacts along the way, which include artillery batteries and a stone fort. You’ll get plenty of good views of the Potomac here.


Zack Frank/shutterstock


Where: Blue Hills Reservation

Distance: 3 miles out and back

Must see: The trail passes by groves of hemlocks, laurel-covered mountains and a cedar swamp. An old cellar hole marks the Glover Homestead, where farmers settled hundreds of years ago.

After your hike, travel 20 minutes up to Boston, where you can re-fuel at the Boston Public Market, the must-visit local farmers market in the state.


Courtesy of Blue Hills Reversation


Where: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Distance: 10-mile loop

Must see: You’ll definitely want to see the landmark the trail gets its name from, but also the limestone arches that line the shore, including Lover’s Leap.


Courtesy of the National Park Service


Where: Jay Cooke State Park

Distance: 3.5-mile loop

Must see: Get excited to cross the Swinging Bridge, which hangs above the St. Louis River and offers views of the Silver Creek.


Jay Cooke State Park


Where: Tishomingo State Park

Distance: 2-mile loop

Must see: This loop trail starts at the Swinging Bridge over the Bear Creek. If you want to spend the day outside, grab your gear — this trail is popular among rock climbers.

Tishomingo State Park, Mississippi by Visit Mississippi (CC BY)

Where: Buford Mountain

Distance: 9.1-mile trail

Must see: This trail takes you through the Buford Mountain Conservation Area to a peak of 1,740 feet above sea level, which you don’t want to miss. It’s a great spot for camping and seeing wildlife.


Courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation


Where: Kootenai National Forest, north of Yellowstone.

Distance: 7.1 miles out and back

Must see: Follow Ross Creek through a forest of giant cedars and hemlocks to a picturesque lake surrounded by mountains.


Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service


Where: Scotts Bluff National Monument

Distance: 3.2 miles out and back

Must see: This is a short, but tough hike with a 435-foot climb. But it’s worth it — at the top, you could see raptors soaring above the bluff or box turtles crawling up the plains.


Courtesy of National Park Service


Where: Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Distance: 7.5-mile loop

Must see: Catch views of Lake Mead and the Boulder Basin. Plus, you get to travel through large tunnels of a historical railroad route that ran from 1931 to 1961.

Hoover Dam / Lake Mead, November 2009 by Mispahn (CC BY)

Where: Chocorua Lake Conservatory

Distance: 1.4 to 8.4 miles, depending on loop

Must see: This trail has really neat, old logging roads that you will walk over to get to the scenic Champney and Pitcher Falls. If you’re looking for an added challenge, you can climb 3,490 feet to the Mt. Chocorua summit.


Courtesy of Chocorua Lake Conservatory


Where: Worthington State Forest, Mount Tammany

Distance: 3.5-mile loop

Must see: Just two hours from New York City, this mountain trail gives you panoramic views of the Delaware River, nearby Mount Minsi and the hills of Pennsylvania.


Courtesy of NJ Trail Conference


Where: Bandalier National Monument

Distance: 1.2-mile loop

Must see: There are spectacular archaeological sites like Big Kiva, an ancient meeting place, and ladders you can climb into cavates, alcoves carved into the stone.


Courtesy of National Park Service


Where: Minnewaska State Park Preserve

Distance: 8.2-mile loop

Must see: Make sure to see the gorgeous 187-foot waterfall, the highest in Sam’s Point. But also don’t miss the ice caves or the serene view of Lake Maratanza.


Courtesy of New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation


Where: Grandfather Mountain

Distance: 6 miles out and back

Must see: At 5,964 feet above sea level, Calloway Peak is highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains range. The rolling hills of Flat Rock View, about midway through the hike, are also worth seeing.


Courtesy of North Carolina State Parks


Where: Knife River Indian Village

Distance: 6.2-mile loop

Must see: Walk alongside the Knife River and the Missouri River — you will also pass the village where Sacagawea once lived, as well as a sacred earth-lodge site.


Courtesy of National Park Service


Where: Zaleski State Forest

Distance: 9.3-mile loop

Must see: Deep in the heart of an old-growth forest, you’ll see long patches of marshland (or snow fields in winter time) and small caverns on this trail.


Courtesy of Ohio State Parks and Watercraft


Where: Wichita Mountains

Distance: 5.7-mile loop

Must see: The Wichita Mountains offers splendid views of lakes and craggy rock — follow the trail long enough and you could see herds of wild buffalo.


Courtesy of National Parks Service


Where: Silver Falls State Park

Distance: 7.2-mile loop

Must see: As the name suggests, you can see 10 amazing waterfalls, from the 177-foot South Falls to the 27-foot Drake Falls.


GCC Photography/istockphoto


Where: Wissahickon Valley Park

Distance: 8.5 miles out and back

Must see: Don’t let the name scare you. This mostly flat trail offers standout views of old bridges and historical homes, and you can even ride a horse on it (with a permit). Finish off your afternoon hike with a sweet treat at Flying Monkey Bakery, the best local bakery in the state.


Courtesy of Friends of Wissahickon


Where: Arcadia Management Area

Distance: 3-mile loop

Must see: The highlight of this loop is the 44-acre pond it surrounds.


Courtesy of State of Rhode Island Division of Parks & Recreation


Where: Jones Gap State Park

Distance: 3.4 miles out and back

Must see: This short and sweet hike offers breathtaking views of a 125-foot waterfall that is sure to be unlike anything you’ve seen before.


Denton Rumsey/shutterstock


Where: Black Hills National Forest

Distance: 5.9 miles out and back

Must see: Look out for wild turkeys and deer along the way on your way up the peak. Once you’ve reached the peak, you’ll get panoramic views of Black Hills Mountains, including Terry Peak and Bear Butte.


Zack Frank/shutterstock


Where: Smoky Mountains

Distance: 4.4-mile loop

Must see: Though you won’t actually see a cave, you’ll get to see plenty of breathtaking rock formations, including Arch Rock and The Eye of the Needle.


anthony heflin/shutterstock


Where: Trailhead is near Zilker Park, but there are various access points around south-central Austin

Distance: 7 miles out and back

Must see: There are several great swimming holes along the trail, including Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls — but don’t miss limestone bluffs that line the path.


Danielle S./Yelp


Where: Big Cottonwood Canyon

Distance: 6.9 miles out and back

Must see: Definitely check out Lake Blanche, but if you have the time, take the short trails to explore Lake Florence and Lake Lillian.


Courtesy of Official State of Utah Website


Where: Mount Mansfield, Summit Post

Distance: 5.7 miles out and back

Must see: The best part of this trail is the two miles of ridge-top hiking above the treeline, known as Adam’s Apple. Here, you can get a glimpse of rare arctic tundra.


Courtesy of Official State of Vermont Website


Where: Shenandoah Valley

Distance: 9-mile loop

Must see: The 360-degree views of the Shenandoah Valley are unparalleled. Make sure to be prepared for a full day of hiking.


Zack Frank/shutterstock


Where: Snoqualmie Region, North Bend Area

Distance: 4-mile loop

Must see: Catch a view of Cedar River, Mount Si and Mount Washington on this high-altitude hike. If you are feeling ambitious, climb up a little bit further to the upper ledge to get even better views.


Richard A McMillin/shutterstock


Where: Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

Distance: 8-mile loop

Must see: One of the most popular hikes in the District sits alongside the Potomac river, with plenty of overlooks. The trail is divided into three parts by level of difficulty, so there’s sure to be something for everyone. If you make it to the end, you can enjoy lunch at the delicious Old Angler’s Inn.


Guillermo Olaizola/shutterstock


Where: New River Gorge National River

Distance: 2.7-mile loop

Must see: The overlook at Diamond Point provides great views of the West Virginia vista. But don’t be afraid to look down the 1,000-foot cliff — the beauty of the New River Gorge below beats out any view.




Where: Devil’s Lake State Park

Distance: 7.5-mile loop

Must see: Hike to the top of a 500-foot bluff to get a panoramic view of Devil’s Lake, and view other landmarks such as Devil’s Doorway and Balanced Rock.


Kris Wiktor/shutterstock


Where: Grand Teton National Park

Distance: Around 6 miles, depending on the loop

Must see: On the top of the 200-foot Hidden Falls sits Inspiration Point, which looks out over Jenny Lake and the east side of the park. If you are feeling adventurous, continue on the trail to the Cathedral Group peaks, with a breathtaking view.

Looking for more ways to explore? Check out this state-by-state guide to the best local towns to visit.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius and was syndicated by


Courtesy of National Park Service



R.M. Nunes/ istockphoto


Featured Image Credit: DaniloAndjus/istockphoto.