Benefits Of Hiking
The sound of the wind rushing through the trees, the warm sunshine on your face and the soft earthy feel of the trail under your boots. Not only are these experiences enjoyable to have, but they’re good for you too. Hiking is proven to have many health benefits, ranging from physical exercise you get when out on the trail, to emotional or mental relief that comes from being in nature. Hiking is a great way to get outside, move your body, and explore new places. It’s also relatively accessible compared to many sports. Hikers of any age or ability level can find a hike that will provide them with an appropriate challenge. In the last two years, many people around the world have taken up hiking for stress relief regarding the instability caused by the global pandemic etc.
What are the physical and mental benefits?
- Heart Health- Hiking is a form of cardiovascular exercise, which are activities that increase your heart and respiratory rates as you work to supply your body with oxygen. Cardio exercises, like hiking, increase blood flow to the small vessels around your heart, where blockages can build over time. Studies done by The Centers For Disease Control showed that by exercising, individuals significantly reduce their chances for heart problems, while those who do not exercise are twice as likely to have coronary heart disease.
- Diabetes- For a person who has type l diabetes, hiking can reduce the amount of insulin the person needs. A person with type ll diabetes can actually reverse the course of the disease through diet and exercise.
- Muscles & bones- Hiking can be a way to build strong, healthy muscles and bones. When it comes to specific muscle groups, inclines target quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves while those downhill sections are great for strengthening your knees and hip flexors. Hiking also activates your core, it is a full body workout.
- Weight loss- Like all forms of exercise, hiking is one of the best ways to lose weight and helps stabilize cholesterol levels. On average, you burn 100-250 calories for every mile you walk. People who lose weight through hiking or walking maintain the loss and continue to lose while those who lose through
dieting tend to gain weight again quickly.
- Better sleep- Studies show that exercise is an effective way to improve sleep quality. Hiking is a full-body workout that requires physical energy and mental energy too. At the end of the day, all of that mental and physical exhaustion encourages our minds and bodies to relax and recharge with sleep.
- Reduce stress/anxiety- In addition to its many physical benefits, going hiking can be beneficial to your mental health. Hiking encourages the body to release endorphins, because they make you feel happy and less stressed. Studies found that spending time in nature decreases activity in the brain tied to mental illness.
- Hiking also increases exposure to the sun, which provides many health benefits including vitamin D.
- Strengthens your mind- When you’re on the trail, you have to maintain a heightened sense of your surroundings. Through this mental awareness, you activate your hippocampus and retrosplenial cortex, part of the brain that is believed to control memory and navigation. By activating different areas in the
brain, hiking keeps the mind sharp; including improved cognition, increased creativity and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
Hiking tips for beginners
If you’ve never hiked before, you might feel intimidated by the idea. Maybe you’re concerned you’re not in shape to hike or worried you’ll get lost. Rest assured- there is a hike out there for everyone. Hiking is not a race to the finish line, but a fun workout with friends (or alone) surrounded by nature. The following are some helpful tips if you want to start hiking:
- Check the weather- You may be tempted not to let weather get in the way of your hike, but poor weather conditions can be the cause of accidents while hiking. If you plan to do the hike rain-or-shine, check the weather ahead of time so that you can prepare yourself with proper gear.
- Proper amount of food and water- The single most important thing to bring on a hike is water. You need a liter of water for every 2 hours you plan to hike. For day hiking, bring high energy food that doesn’t need refrigeration or heating. For example: trail mix, dried fruit, energy/granola bars.
- Bring essentials- For simple day hikes, make sure to keep these in your backpack:
- First aid kit
- Fire-starter or matches
- Army knife or multi-purpose tool
- Sunscreen and hat
- Flashlight and batteries
- Correct shoes- Blisters will ruin your hike and they’re likely to happen if your shoes aren’t right for you. Visit your local outdoor shop (REI etc.) and be fitted for hiking boots. They should be snug but not tight!
- Pack your phone- You should always start your hike with a fully charged phone in case of emergency. There’s no question that hiking’s many benefits make it one of the best workouts for both your mind and your body. Whether you’re a long-time hiker or planning to start your first hike, I hope these benefits and tips have inspired you to head out in nature and hit the trails!