Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the only people who hike are the adventurous, super fit, or those who already live close to the wild outdoors.
The truth of the matter is that hiking is inclusive, accessible, and easy to do, no matter how fit you are. There is no need to travel, expensive gear isn’t necessary, and you can walk long or short distances.
Hiking is the perfect activity to introduce yourself to the great outdoors. However, exploring the wilderness by hiking through it delivers loads of health benefits that go beyond just the physical to benefit you emotionally and mentally as well.
You can walk with friends, or you can take time to meditate on a solo venture. There are few downsides when it comes to hiking, and hikers almost always feel better about themselves once the hike is complete.
The Benefits Of Hiking
Hiking Is Free
Anywhere you live, you can readily find a wilderness area to hiking without having to shell out hard-earned dollars. National parks do require entry fees, but there are many more choices that don’t have any fees. State and local parks often have trails with a wide variety of distances.
Minimal Gear Required
You don’t need much gear to start moving unless you’re planning on heading out into challenging terrain or hiking through severe weather for extended periods. Short hikes only require a good pair of running or walking shoes.
Comfortable clothing makes the experience more pleasant, and if you’re planning on a longer hike, be sure to include a pack to carry your water, food, or other items. Those other items might consist of bug repellent, a first aid kit, your cell phone, and other things recommended for your safety.
The good news is that equipment requirements are minimal when you’re first starting with short hikes.
Hiking Is An Excellent Family Activity
Families that hike together report increased closeness. Children get the chance to explore nature and have an adventure. If you’re walking with young children, seek out a trail that has exciting features such as boulders or streams along the way. Scavenger hunts add excitement.
Match Fitness Levels To The Distance
Many people head out on hikes to get healthier, so make sure to start smart by selecting trails with a distance that you can conquer without overdoing it.
Over time, as your fitness level rises, you can choose hikes that are longer and more difficult. Don’t worry. You’ll soon be climbing mountain peaks!
Hiking Promotes Unplugging
The average adult spends massive amounts of time plugged into the Internet each day. The following statistics tell the story more completely:
- Young children (Under the age of 8 years old) look at mobile screens an average of 48 minutes a day. That number is sharply up from four years ago when it was 15 minutes per day.
- If things don’t change, social media will consume more than five years of an average adult’s life span.
- Over the past 15 years, the amount of time people spend physically with friends has declined by 13% with social media use.
If you are reading these words, then you are on a screen right now. Let’s face it. Social media and the Internet have changed our world in many beautiful ways too.
However, it’s essential to be aware of the facts and make a decision for yourself about how much time you want to spend remotely connecting with the world and how much you wish to be immersed within it. Deciding to disconnect from time to time can have many healthful consequences.
Hiking is a direct way to unplug. When regularly scheduled, you will not only get fresh exercise. You’ll also get a new perspective because you are free of your device.
The world is still there, no matter how many hours you spent submerged in Twitter or exploring other social media platforms. Hiking helps you reconnect with the beauty of the real physical world.
Hiking Can Be A Solo Exercise
While many hikers swear by the joy of hiking with friends and family, some prefer to go it alone. Solo trips can be contemplative and renew a sense of self.
However, single hikers should always pack for an emergency and tell someone where they are going and when they expect to return in case an accident occurs on the trail.
Even if you usually hike in groups, consider taking a hike on your own. If you enjoy it, you can add individual hikes to your exercise plan.
There Is A Trail For Every Level Of Fitness
Is your lifestyle mainly sedentary? Start by exploring your local city parks. They often have short, level paths that you can meander along at your own pace when you are just starting. Over time, you can up the level of difficulty by heading to the more challenging terrain, and by increasing the weight of your pack.
If you have joint issues, use poles to ease the impact of each step. Hiking is walking, and that is something that everyone knows how to do. It doesn’t require any specialized training to begin.
Doctors and health experts love it when people head out for a walk. Just ten minutes a day delivers positive changes within the body and in your outlook on life. Besides, walking is safer than running with fewer injuries reported by avid walkers.
The Mental Benefits Of Hiking
Improvements In Sense Of Mental Wellbeing
The benefits of living closer to nature are well documented. In fact, as of 1996, there is a name for regular excursions into the outdoors to improve mental satisfaction: ecotherapy. Patients suffering from anxiety and depression report fewer symptoms when they adhere to ecotherapy recommendations. This therapy also goes by the name nature therapy.
If you are engaged in a big project and have run out of ideas, head out for a hike and let the answers come to you. Hiking in the outdoors is linked to improvements in happiness levels.
Researchers have devised experiments to test whether or not this is true, and the answer is a solid yes. Hikers are happier, and it seems that happier people are also more creative. The movement inspires the creative force. People who are sitting have half as many creative ideas as people who are moving.
Problem-solving skills take a big jump when people are exposed to nature for an extended period. These findings are also linked to less engagement with electronic devices.
However, nature insists that we see things differently, which is why many entrepreneurs regularly head for the hills when they have trouble solving problems.
It’s estimated that four days in the wilderness boosts problem-solving abilities by 50% or more.
Today’s world rushes at us. Things relentlessly change every minute in the modern 24/7 news cycle. Stress and over-stimulation abound, which is why more people find it essential to pull the cord and switch the world off for a time.
If your mind is overly busy, hiking in nature provides the perfect solution. Just a few minutes into a hike, the unwinding starts, and the healing begins.
Rumination, the constant stream of repetitive negative thoughts cycling through our minds, slows down when people are hiking. Hiking substitutes the rhythmic nature of walking for rumination. Once negativity stops, room for healing meditation opens.
Start small if a big hiking trip is too much for you right now. Create a list of short excursions into nature that you can perform regularly. Even if you simply head outdoors to see the flowers blooming in your yard, you will experience a credible decrease in stress.
It is well known that a daily walk elevates the mood. Hiking is walking on steroids when it comes to mood elevation. Not only will you feel happier and more content once you’ve hiked, but those effects will also carry forward into the days ahead. It’s a win when it comes to happiness.
Exercise specialists believe that hiking is very similar to interval training. Interval training switches between intensive and light exercise. Hiking in an area with hills and valleys requires exertion when climbing and blessed ease when descending.
However, unlike interval training in the gym, you get the benefit of beautiful views of nature and interactions with birds and animals instead of fellow gym patrons.
The alternating levels of exertion, the natural setting, and the animals in their environment combine with the sounds of nature to help you relax and feel better about yourself and your world.
Hiking For Memory Improvement And Protection From Alzheimer’s
Regular hikes are linked to better memory retention and may help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s. Hippocampal volume increases in hikers and may help improve memory and slow or prevent the development of dementia.
Dramatic Improvement Of Sleep Quality
Rumination is strongly linked to poor quality of sleep, and hiking helps slow this negative process down. Just 90 minutes of nature walks a week significantly reduce these thoughts.
If you can’t sleep, your best defense starts long before bedtime. Head out for a walk at the intensity level you feel most comfortable and see how quickly your sleep changes.
The Physical Benefits Of Hiking
It Builds Leg Strength
While hiking on flat terrain can offer numerous benefits of boosting your endurance, the benefits get amplified when you begin hiking on steeper terrain. Hiking both uphill and downhill can effectively be compared to doing several hundred lunges in a short period of time.
While it can be very difficult from the start, once you begin to build up strength in your legs, you will find it getting easier and easier to accomplish with greater confidence.
Activate Your Core
No matter if you fully realize it or not, every time you go hiking and take a step on the trail, you will be actively engaging your core muscles throughout your midsection. While you won’t necessarily feel soreness in your core muscles after a hike, you will be working all of the deep and smaller muscles that rarely get worked in your core in a very natural way.
By introducing more challenging hikes, you will be able to engage even more muscles in your core. If you are carrying a lot of heavy gear on your back, your entire back, core, and torso will get an effective workout.
Improve Your Cardio Fitness Levels
Hiking can improve your cardio fitness including your lungs just like any other kind of cardiovascular workout.
As soon s you begin climbing hills, you will be able to see the benefits that hiking can offer your cardio endurance sooner than you would with flat ground.
However, if you are brand new to going hiking, you will find that flat hiking is good enough to give your lungs an effective workout.
Stabilizes Joints and Improves Balance
Hiking on terrain that isn’t even is one of the best ways to stabilize all of the joints found in your lower body. Every step on an outdoor trail is very different from the motion and action you would get with a treadmill. All of the supporting muscles that can be found near the joints will need to be activated in order to compensate.
Therefore, by activating them much more regularly, you will be able to maximize their strength which can improve your balance and help you build up strength to prevent joint-related injuries.
Control Your Weight
Hiking is a great workout. As such, it is a good option for controlling your weight. It can burn a lot of calories in a short period of time.
The total number of calories you can burn will ultimately be determined by your body type, the kind of trail you are hiking on, and the total weight you are carrying with you. A 5 to 10 percent incline will cause your body to burn around 30 to 40 percent more calories during your hiking session.
Carrying 5kg to 7kg on your back will ultimately give you around a 10 to 15 percent increase in total calories burned. By going for an even longer hike, you should be able to burn even more.
Keep in mind, you want to provide your body with a good amount of caloric intake that is nutrient-dense in order to give it everything it needs. You will generally lose weight every hiking session even if you attempt to eat what you are burning.
For instance, when hiking around 20 or more km per day with a heavy backpack, you will be burning an extra 2,000 or more calories in addition to what your body is normally using. As a result, it can be nearly impossible to take in 4,000 calories per day to balance off that caloric expenditure.
Hiking Can Provide Challenging Natural Movements
Another good thing is that hiking will provide you with the ability to challenge your body in ways that you simply couldn’t at a gym.
You will not only workout the regular muscles that you would hit at the gym, but you will also be able to engage your stabilizer muscles that are often an afterthought at the gym. These muscles are required to balance and they can provide you with greater injury prevention.
When you are hiking, you are going to be doing constant lunges, squats, and jumps. However, you are usually going to be doing these things while weighed down by a heavy backpack which can force your body to engage all muscles to keep you from falling over.
Improves Your Blood Pressure
One of the best things that you get from hiking is having something that can benefit your general health and wellness. After all, hiking can play a crucial role in helping reduce your blood pressure and keeping your heart healthy. It can be a great way to minimize the risk of heart disease and other serious health complications.
A lot of research conducted by the CDC has found that walking as little as one hour per day, 5 days per week can reduce the risk of someone experiencing a stroke by as much as 50 percent. After all, hiking can provide an aerobic exercise that can really strengthen the heart and keep blood pressure levels and cholesterol levels healthy.
The CDC also found that those who do things like hike regularly will be much less likely to experience heart problems in the future. As you can see, there are a variety of physical health benefits associated with hiking. Now, we will begin to discuss some of the benefits it can have for your mental health.
Helps Type 2 Diabetes Sufferers
Several studies have shown that hiking can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
One study found that taking part in any type of physical activity at least once a week and a form of dynamic physical activity, such as hiking, once a week can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
In addition, lowering body weight is something every person suffering from type 2 diabetes needs to strive for.
You need to be in good shape and take time to stretch before hiking. And, always confirm that someone on the trip is aware of your condition and knows how to spot the warning signs of low blood glucose levels. If others on the trip know about any workout plans to help your condition, even better.
Many forms of physical exercise have direct, long-term positive impacts on a person’s health. Engaging in regular physical activities will do wonders to improve your life. If you can, do at least 30 minutes of walking each day to strive off type 2 diabetes.
Decreases The Risk Of Breast And Colon Cancer
There are many health benefits of hiking. Some studies out there even show that the activity can decrease the risk of colon cancer and breast cancer. There is also some evidence to suggest it may also reduce the development of endometrial and lung cancer.
Just half an hour of aerobic activity three to five times each week will lower the risk of breast cancer development by as much as 40%.
Researchers have also revealed that the fatality rate of many types of cancer can be significantly reduced by engaging in a one-mile walk each day.
For those with a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to know that physical activities don’t just reduce your chances of death and lower the recurrence rate of the disease. Physical activities can also be used to manage some of the negative side effects of the disease itself and the treatments.
Undertaking approximately six hours of moderate exercise each week will reduce your chance of dying from cancer. Breast cancer and colon cancer are two types of diseases that benefit the most from physical activities.
There is much evidence to back up the claim that hiking can protect against many health problems, and there’s even some evidence to show that the activity can help to heal the body and aid recovery from serious medical conditions, including cancer.
When it comes to serious diseases like cancer, many elements of the disease are not fully understood. However, there are some indications that hiking might help to boost antioxidative capacity in cancer patients.
There is no need to get bogged down with the medical terms, the main takeaway from the studies is that hiking provides many health benefits and there is an indication that it could help sufferers of aggressive diseases, including cancer, recover more quickly. Hiking many also reduce the recurrence of cancer following successful treatment.
What’s more, you don’t want to ignore some of the psychological benefits of hiking. Many people coping with cancer can significantly improve the quality of their lives by engaging in the activity during recovery.
Improve Lung Health
Breathing fresh air is essential for healthy lungs. It can also boost the health of your mind and body.
Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced world, many people don’t take time to go outside and inhale some fresh air. As a result, they miss out on the many health benefits of being out and about in the fresh air.
The great thing about hiking is that it takes place away from urban areas, so you don’t have to worry about air pollution. Be sure to bring some binoculars with you so you can observe the birds.
Inhaling fresh air during a hike will help to clean your lungs. You can then enjoy better circulation as more oxygen is absorbed into your bloodstream.
While breathing outside, you are both inhaling and exhaling. During the exhaling stage, you release toxins from your system. For a healthy immune system, breathing clean, oxygen-rich air is essential. This is because white blood cells require more oxygen to attack bacteria and viruses. So, to maintain optimal functions in your body, you want to make sure you spend enough time in the fresh air.
What better way is there to enjoy the fresh air than going for a hike at the weekends? You don’t have to go on an overnight expedition. A short two to three-hour hike is sufficient and you are guaranteed to feel better when you get back home.
Back Pain Relief
On a hiking trip, you will typically be carrying a heavy backpack on uneven terrain with a steep gradient. This will force your muscles to work harder to keep your body balanced. Over time, your core muscles will become stronger. Developing your core muscles is one of the most effective ways to alleviate back pain.
One of the most common reasons people develop back pain — upper or lower — is because they have weak abdominal muscles. By strengthening those muscles, back pain sufferers can gain some relief. Stronger muscles also reduce your risk of back injuries.
Boost Bone Density
Physical activities, including walking and hiking, are essential to healthy bone formation. Such activities also help to strengthen the muscles that support all the bones in the human body.
While genetics plays a big role in determining a person’s total bone mass, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any lifestyle changes people can make to boost and maintain existing mass. The right diet and exercise regime can be the difference between a frail skeleton and a strong, healthy frame.
A few recent studies have shown that engaging in physical activities can be beneficial for all age groups and will help to protect against osteoporosis. As hiking puts a lot of pressure on the body’s frame, it will promote the development of healthy bones and joints.
Get Your Daily Vitamin D Requirements Met
Vitamin D is essential for good bone health as it helps the body to absorb calcium. However, many people have lower vitamin D levels due to spending too much time indoors.
In fact, some studies show that an estimated 41% of the U.S. population has a vitamin D deficiency.
One of the most effective ways to boost vitamin D levels is sunshine exposure. The human body can generate its own vitamin D when the sun’s rays interact with existing chemicals in the skin.
Vitamin D’s main function in the body is to facilitate the absorption of calcium, but it can also protect the body from prostate cancer and many other diseases. The fact that our body can manufacture vitamin D from the sun is certainly a major gift. And, it’s just another good reason to go on a hiking trip.
You are certain to get exposed to lots of sunlight while hiking, which will enable your body to naturally make all the vitamin D it needs. However, you shouldn’t forget to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the damaging UV rays.
Did you know that depending on your skin tone, just 10 minutes in the sun is all that you need to meet your body’s daily vitamin D requirements? So, get those hiking boots on and go out and enjoy the sunshine. Your bones will thank you for it.
Social Benefits Of Hiking
Meet New People
Because hiking is so accessible to everyone, there are all kinds of people that you can meet in varying social groups. These groups tend to welcome new members with open arms.
Simply join a hiking group on Meetup wherever you live and you will be able to explore new areas with them.
Along with this, joining a new group will give you the added advantage of being able to save money on transport to and from the hiking area.
Time To Talk
If you are looking to bond with your friends or family, there is arguably no better way than to take a hike with them. After all, there are very few ways that you can completely detach from the internet and spend several hours with other people without common distractions you would normally be faced with.
Think about all of the conversations you will be able to have on a hike that lasts 6 hours! Because you are going to be ditching your electronics, it can give you a lot of time to reduce stress and allow your creative juices to start flowing which can open up the conversation to deeper levels.
Take A Hike
Anyone can take a hike in a National park. These parks are open to everyone. There are over 400 different national parks that you can explore. Each of these parks presents its own unique atmosphere that you can enjoy.
Simply grab your favorite hiking boots and get yourself a walking stick. The benefits that hiking can offer are right there waiting for you to take advantage of. All you need to do is jump in and get started now.
How To Kick-start A Hiking Fitness Routine
One of the best things about hiking is the minimalist nature of it. The fact is, you don’t need expensive equipment to get started. All you really need is a good pair of walking shoes or sneakers and a backpack. Having these things will allow you to set off and enjoy the benefits of hiking.
As you continue to progress with your hiking experiences, you might be able to begin seeking out terrain that is much more difficult to navigate and longer distances. If so, you can begin to invest more in the equipment that you bring along with you.
Here are some of the things that you should be keeping in mind when you begin to face hiking trails that might require specialized equipment.
Keeping yourself properly hydrated is one of the most important keys to success for any activity that requires a lot of physical exertion.
This is something that should begin prior to ever stepping foot outside. You want to properly hydrate yourself even before you begin your hike. The hours leading up to your hike are most important if you want to maintain proper hydration. Therefore, you should be drinking enough water beforehand.
While you are hiking on the trail, you will want to have the appropriate amount of water with you. You can either get a backpack that will hold the water for you or hold an insulated bottle in your hand.
No matter what, you want to stick to either pure water or a drink tailored for sports as it will contain the requisite electrolytes you need to sustain energy during your hike.
Become Familiar With The Terrain
Hiking on natural surfaces is always going to present its own set of unique challenges. After all, you will have a lot of uneven surfaces and a lot of instability.
As a result, you want to get the proper footwear in order to combat this. Thus, you should look to invest in a pair of trail runners in order to maximize the stability you are able to get. Otherwise, you could get hiking boots that have the requisite support to keep your ankles protected throughout the entire hike.
It’s also important to know that weather will play a role in determining how difficult the terrain is. Rain can significantly alter the terrain on the trail. Thus, you want to wear the appropriate footwear that is going to offer you the right level of support for the current conditions.
Along with having the right footwear, you want to try to get a trekking pole. This will help you walk with the right amount of balance to keep yourself protected from uneven surfaces.
Prep For Weather
Temperature and weather conditions can vary considerably when you are hiking. Because of this, you want to prep for the weather conditions you might be faced with by bringing additional layers with you.
Follow Proper Etiquette
You want to familiarize yourself with the different things that you should know as a hiker. You want to adhere to the Leave No Trace Seven Principles prior to hitting the trails.
No matter if you are looking to hike to get fit or lose weight, hiking can offer a lot of benefits. Due to the countless benefits of hiking, you won’t be able to justify not hitting the trails. Happy hiking!
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