Depression is a common and serious mental disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and low self-esteem. It can also interfere with daily functioning and increase the risk of substance abuse and suicide.
While there are effective treatments for depression, such as medication and psychotherapy, they may not work for everyone or have lasting effects. That’s why researchers are exploring alternative or complementary approaches that involve physical activity and exposure to nature.
One such approach is surf therapy, which involves riding waves on a surfboard or other device. Surfing can provide physical exercise, social interaction, and immersion in a natural environment. It can also challenge negative thoughts, enhance self-confidence, and induce positive emotions.
Another approach is hike therapy, which involves walking in natural settings such as forests or mountains. Hiking can also offer physical exercise, social interaction, and immersion in nature. It can also reduce stress, improve mood, and foster a sense of connection with the natural world.
Both surfing and hiking have been shown to have beneficial effects on depression symptoms in various studies. For example, a recent study by Walter et al. (2023) published in BMC Psychiatry examined the effects of surf therapy and hike therapy on 96 active-duty military service members with major depressive disorder at the Naval Medical Center San Diego.
The participants were randomly assigned to either surf therapy or hike therapy for six weekly sessions of three or four hours each. They completed measures of depression symptoms, social functioning, and quality of life before and after the intervention, as well as three months later.
The results showed that both surf therapy and hike therapy significantly reduced depression symptoms over time, regardless of medication use or psychotherapy participation. The participants who attended more sessions had greater improvements in their symptoms. There was no difference between surf therapy and hike therapy in terms of effectiveness.
The researchers also found that surf therapy was associated with higher levels of social functioning and quality of life at the three-month follow-up than hike therapy. They suggested that surfing may have more lasting benefits because it involves more skill development, mastery experiences, and positive feedback.
However, both surfing and hiking can help people with depression cope better and enjoy life more. These activities can be seen as forms of ecotherapy, which is the use of nature-based interventions to promote mental health and well-being.
Ecotherapy is based on the idea that humans have an innate connection with nature and that spending time in natural environments can restore our psychological balance and harmony. Nature can provide us with opportunities for relaxation, reflection, learning, and growth.
According to Berman and Schertz (2019), exposure to nature can also improve our cognitive functioning by enhancing our attention, memory, and creativity. They reviewed several studies that showed that green spaces near schools and homes can boost children’s cognitive development and self-control behaviors. They also reported that adults who interact with natural environments can improve their working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attentional control.
Therefore, surfing and hiking can not only improve our mental health but also our cognitive health. They can help us think more clearly, solve problems more effectively, and generate new ideas more easily.
And if you cannot access the ocean or a surfboard, don’t worry. Other nature-based activities, such as gardening, cycling, or birdwatching, can also benefit your mental health. The important thing is to find something that you enjoy and that connects you with nature.
Remember: surfing and hiking can help you reduce your depression symptoms and boost your mood. So grab your board or your boots and hit the waves or the trails. You’ll be glad you did.