By Sally Bethea
Do you need another reason to get off the sofa and escape this political season? Take a waterfall hike! It may very well make you sharper, more productive and happier.
It turns out that there’s a scientific reason why we all love flowing, plunging, spraying water – why being around moving water can improve our moods. It’s called “negative ions.”
Ions are molecules or atoms that have gained or lost an electrical charge. They are created in nature as air molecules break apart due to a variety of influences from sunlight to moving water. The action of falling water and crashing surf (or even your bathroom shower) creates negative ions that bond with smaller air particles.
When we breathe in this charged air, the negative ions enter our bloodstream and produce biochemical reactions that are linked to reducing depression (by increasing serotonin levels), relieving stress and boosting energy. They increase the flow of oxygen to the brain, resulting in higher alertness.
The atmosphere is full of positive and negative ions: more positive exist in windowless rooms and closed, moving vehicles and more negative near waterfalls and before, during and after thunderstorms. This may explain why some people are drawn to the front porch to watch (read: breathe) stormy weather.
For one out of every three of us, negative ions can make us feel especially wonderful, according to researchers. Happily, I am one of these people! I always feel better when I open a window and get a whiff of fresh, humid air, even in the city. In fact, during most of the year, I keep my windows open.
This summer, my sons and I took our first trip to Hawaii. On Maui and Kauai, we saw more waterfalls than we could count and experienced many close enough to breathe in their exhilarating negative ions. Some of our best memories are playing in the surf, swimming under waterfalls and hiking through fast-flowing streams.
When I think of Yosemite National Park, it’s as much the waterfalls (Nevada, Vernal, Yosemite and Bridalveil) as the magnificent rock formations. There is magic and beauty— and, yes, there are negative ions, too —in these cascades, whether they are a few feet or hundreds of feet high.
I love the Smokies for the forested mountain ridges, especially in early morning or at sunset, but it is the flowing, falling water, over rocks and down cliffs, that captures my imagination and makes me smile. Now I know that part of my enjoyment comes from a physical, chemical reaction that causes more oxygen and serotonin to surge through my body.
The good news is that there are many mood-boosting waterfalls and rocky streams right here in Atlanta; others are just a few hour’s drive (and a few miles hike) away in north Georgia.
So, get off that sofa and find some negative ions in nature!
For information about the top waterfalls in Atlanta and north Georgia, visit atlantatrails.com and look for the top 10 hikes and waterfalls to visit. The best time to view waterfalls is typically in the spring when there is more water from winter rains.