12 - May - 2017
from Hannes Heigenhauser

Intoxication without the side effects

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Numerous studies prove that walking boosts fitness levels, improves cardiovascular functions, reduces weight, and strengthens the immune system. Effects on the brain are also scientifically proven. While the positive e effects of endurance sports on physical health are well known, the impact on the psyche has seen little exploration. Prof. Dr. Reinhard Haller has his own point of view on the matter.

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Hiking in Lech Zürs

Hiking activates our central reward system…

… and stimulates several important areas of the brain. The release of neurotransmitters responsible for our emotional state, i.e. dopamine, serotonin and endorphins is enhanced, causing an effect similar to that of hypnosis or meditation. Hiking results in a so to speak positive intoxication without causing any dangerous side effects.
Endurance sport, especially mountain hiking, has a positive effect on our vital rhythm, on our sleep patterns and on our mood and self-esteem. This starts with the influence of landscape and light on our emotional world and character and goes on to the emotions intensely experienced in the mountain world of security and familiarity, as well as the notions of sublimity and humility. Hiking doesn‘t only take place outside, but inside too: It favours our pursuit of natural life and healthy physical consciousness. Physical consciousness promotes discipline and perseverance, and also gives us a goal and meaning from a psychological perspective.

Increasing happy hormone levels...

... Many basic goals that are supposed to be achieved in psychotherapy, are fulfilled by mountain hiking. On the one hand the ability to connect by means of nature and the region, on the other the desire for orientation and clarity. Endurance exercise strengthens self-control as well as perseverance and self-discipline. Endurance exercise hikes up pleasure levels through an increase in body-specific happiness hormones and has a meditative effect. We literally hike away from depression and through hiking overcome a heavy mountain of sadness. In addition, there‘s ”high-altitude euphoria“: A state of pleasantly being lifted or of almost being in a state of ecstasy. By climbing mountains and pursuing a high goal, we strengthen our self-esteem and gain a more positive picture of ourselves.

The world from above...

Schichten der Zeit - Geheimnisvolles Lech

... Hiking in particular helps us to distance ourselves from the worries and the distresses of our daily lives. We hike them off so to speak, gaining ground on new perspectives, thereby being able to achieve a bit of distance and autonomy. Looking down from a high perspective, everything seems a lot smaller, the problems of our everyday lives are forgotten and many conflicts rendered unimportant. In the sublimity of the mountain world, so much of what appears to be an insurmountable mountain to us is put into perspective.

„Hiking helps us to gain distance from the worries and the distresses of the day.“

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Haller Haller 

It is also a very good form of somato and respiratory therapy. We improve our physical awareness and, as it were, feel the breath of life in all its intensity. On a long hike, we actually decelerate and gain mindfulness for the ”here and now“. What better place for an internal dialogue than climbing a mountain or hiking across a broad plain? Hiking has an antidepressant effect and helps optimism: ”I have come up with my best thoughts whilst walking and do not know of any grief you cannot walk off,“ said the great philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard. For imagination and creativity.  Any type of sport is an excellent means of channelling your strength and getting rid of any aggression. In the beauty of nature and exploration of new landscapes, imagination and creativity are stimulated. Regular endurance exercise is a very good form of mediation and easy to learn as well as being a great contributor to personal development. Without dressing it up and romanticizing and without making false promises of salvation, hiking can be described as one of the most effective medicines on the market. If you succeeded in bringing a pill on the market that has all the physical and psychological effects as regular walking, then this would be by far the best-selling pharmaceutical in the world. Hiking cannot perform miracles, but it can prevent mental disorders, alleviate psychological suffering and sometimes heal mental illnesses.Not because psychotherapy is valued so little, but because there is so much to value about hiking.

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Haller

Specialist in psychiatry and neurology. He has been head of the Vorarlberg Treatment Centre for Addicts for 30 years. Since 1983, he has worked as a criminal psychiatrist and a judicial assessor, writing assessment reports in the cases of the sexual murderer Jack Unterweger and the Winnenden shooting. He was appointed university professor in 2003. Haller has published more than 400 scientific papers and several books, including ”The soul of the criminal“, ”The completely normal evil“ and his latest book, ”The power of insult“. In 2016, he gave a lecture at the Medicinicum Lech, among others, on the subject of ”Thinking in the mountains“.

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