10 Exciting Health Benefits of Hiking
There’s a ton of evidence that backs up why hiking is good for you. In this article we are going to cover the 10 health benefits of hiking that you can easily get excited about!
A quick google search will reveal the many health benefits that going outside, and exercising will provide. And hiking checks both of those boxes meaning it has the benefits of both. Aside from our top 10 favorite reasons to hike in this list. The number one pro we like is that hiking is very accessible to most people.
In a way hiking is innate and somehow it feels like we were all born to hike, every one of us. There is something natural about exploring in the wilderness. And, finding new ground that you’ve never seen before. These days we often hike to escape the hustle and bustle of the work life and experience the freedom that the outdoors often provides.
If you like the sound of this all so far. Then keep reading to see what else hiking will be able to do for you!
Click here if you’d prefer to skip this list and just go straight to the infographic.
The 10 Health Benefits of Hiking
Hiking offers many physical benefits to the body. From improving our heart and lung efficiency to building strong bones and muscles. There is a lot hiking can do for you physically. Of the 10 health benefits of hiking the first five on this list are our favorite physical benefits from hiking.
While the physical benefits of hiking are often a highlight for most people. We cannot forget to mention the amazing benefits hiking provides for our mind and emotional well-being. Hiking surprisingly does a lot for our brain and can optimize your relationships with others. Of the 10 health benefits of hiking in this list the last five on this list focus on the best mind and social well-being benefits.
Hiking is Good for Heart Health
Like all types of aerobic exercises, hiking is also a great way to improve your cardiovascular health. Hiking for some time offers the same benefits in comparison to walking. Although, you can definitely say depending on the terrain hiking will get that heart pumping a bit more.
For a lot of people hiking or walking is a great start to any cardiovascular program for three good reasons:
First, it is a fairly low impact activity in comparison to exercises like running. Second, it is fairly accessible to most people. Finally, the cardiovascular demand is lower making it a great exercise for a wide range of people.
In fact, hiking is such a great starting point for any program. That physicians are starting to recommend 10,000 step programs more often to their patients.
Furthermore, research has found hiking can cause significant benefits to functional aerobic capacity and endurance. And these benefits were realized in only 12 weeks! So, when it comes to the 10 health benefits of hiking cardiovascular health is one major big reason to keep trekking on.
Build Strong Bones
Retaining bone mass density is super important for bone strength which reduces fractures, breaks, and muscle sprains.
When we talk about bone density we are referring to the amount of minerals like calcium that are in your bones. When we have a high bone density it means there are adequate amounts of minerals and thickness in the bones. Conditions like osteoporosis cause bones to be weak, frail, porous, and prone to breaking.
This becomes even more important as we age. Because, when we get older, bone density goes down due to gradual muscle loss. Unfortunately, we are all prone to this gradual bone loss especially women.
The good news is weight bearing exercise can slow this loss of bone density. And hiking is a weight bearing activity!
In one study, researchers found that whole body bone density improved in postmenopausal women who walked just 1 mile a day compared to those that walked shorter distances.
Another study found that long-term brisk walking was highly effective for improving bone mass density. And that walking 30 minutes per day 3 or more times per week was able to prevent bone loss in premenopausal women.
Really when it comes to performing weight bearing exercises like hiking. The earlier you start the better. However, research is showing that even starting later will provide you with significant benefits.
Helps Build muscle
In addition to building good bone density. Hiking is also good at building lean muscle mass in the body. When we hike on various terrain, we recruit a lot of different muscles. The instability of most Hiking terrain will really work those smaller muscles responsible for stabilizing the ankle, knees, and hips.
Hiking uphill and downhill will increase the work of our larger leg muscles like the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. But, hiking will also really work the core and lower back musculature a great deal due to isometric loading. Especially when loading with a weighted hiking pack full of supplies.
If we hike with trekking poles also known as nordic walking. The use of trekking poles really works out those shoulders, biceps, and tricep muscles of the arms. Overall, adding trekking poles really makes hiking a full body workout.
In fact with a diet with a good amount of protein and moderate calorie intake. Hiking can be a great way to build whole body musculature. And in one study researchers found that short-term Nordic walking induced significant changes in knee muscle strength.
Another study found that nordic walking was even more effective for improving upper extremity strength than normal walking.
Overall, if you’re looking to build muscle. Hiking can be a great way to do so. And if you want to get the arms involved then use trekking poles to mimic exercise similar to Nordic walking.
Challenges your balance
When it comes to balance, hiking is a good way to improve it. Hiking terrain is full of obstacles that require our muscles to have to work harder to climb over them.
Many hiking terrains cover various terrains from rocky to steep trails. As you walk through these trails the small muscles in our legs and core are constantly being challenged to keep the body from falling.
Over time these constant challenges will strengthen the body. Thus hiking will gradually become easier and the body will recover more quickly.
Balance gradually improves as we get stronger. Because a stronger muscle means our body will have to work less to do an activity. However, strength is only one component of balance which can also be called proprioception.
Proprioception or kinesthesia is a sense that allows us to perceive where the body is in space at any given time. Proprioception enables us to feel where legs and arms are at during different movements and positions.
Hiking improves proprioception because with every step we take your brain is processing sensations and movements you make. Every time you step over a rock, root, or obstacles your brain teaches your body to do it more effectively. As a result, your balance gets better.
One study, comparing a nordic walking group vs sedentary group, found that nordic Walking was able to improve functional balance, dynamic balance, and muscle strength of upper and lower limbs.
Another study found nordic walking to significantly increase balance, functional mobility, and endurance. Compared to non nordic walking groups which actually saw deteriorations in balance, functional mobility, and endurance.
Out of road running and road walking hiking improves balance more effectively. It also makes for a natural way to get out in nature. If your balance is lagging you can start off with using trekking poles to assist with balance.
Hiking is Good for Weight Loss
With obesity rates climbing up every year from the five years to 2023. Losing weight and becoming healthier has been a drive for a lot of people.
In fact, the IBISWorld estimates that the obesity rate among adults aged 18 and older has increased an annualized 1.8% or 33 people per 100 individuals.
While not everyone has weight to lose, if you do. Hiking is a great way to help shred off the pounds.
One study found that nordic walking could be considered as an effective modality through which to involve the obese in physical activity. For weight loss, they recommended nordic walking 4-5 times per week, at least 60 min per session, preferably combined with diet control.
In general when hiking for weight loss I recommend to focus on getting in about 150 minutes a week at least. I like to space this out in 2-3x for 30 minute bouts and one longer hike of 60-90 minutes for people just getting started.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans most adults need 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle strengthening activity for health.
Hiking in combination of diet control is a highly effective way to lose pounds. When looking at diet control I recommend just taking a simple approach. No fancy fad diets.
Keeping it simple if looking to lose weight just do goal body weight x12. Now, I recommend keeping the goal fairly small about 10lbs or so. Example: 200lb male with a goal to lose 10lbs. 190lbs is the goal body weight X 12 = 2280 calories.
Next make sure you’re getting a good amount of protein to build muscle and keep you full during the day. I recommend about .8g per lb of bodyweight. So for a 200lb male .8 X 200 = 160g of protein a day.
I don’t necessarily focus on how many carbohydrates and fats. The distribution doesn’t really matter that much as long as you’re in a calorie deficit.
Great for Clearing Easing Stress
Of the 10 health benefits of hiking in this list, this is one of my favorites. A lot of people carry stress in their day-to-day life and going on a nature walk is great for clearing your mind. For a lot of people just being in forested places has a refreshing stress reducing impact on the brain and body.
This study revealed that forest environments are highly beneficial in regard to recent emotions and especially among those experiencing chronic stress.
In their research they looked at the effects of shinrin-yoku as a therapeutic. In Japan shinrin-yoku means to walk and/or stay in forests.
They found that walking or being in forested areas was highly beneficial for stress reduction in people and may be a beneficial therapy for psychosocial stress related diseases.
So if you’re having a rough day or a lot on your mind. Going on a hike might be your ticket to easing up some of the stress in your life.
Hiking is Good For Mental Health
So hiking is great for stress but, did you know it is also good for anxiety and depression.
Similarly to other forms of exercise hiking can have profound benefits to reducing anxiety and depression. Any form of exercise helps the body develop more protective factors against anxiety and depression when it arises.
When it comes to hiking this study found that just a 50 minute walk can make positive changes in mental health. Even better, a 50 minute walk in forested areas amplifies the mental health benefits.
I personally find it interesting how forested areas can provide such an improved benefit to mental health. Some urban areas are starting to consider this research and are now building more green spaces in the cities to improve anxiety and depression disorders.
This study looked into neighborhoods with green spaces. They found that higher levels of neighborhood green space corresponded to better mental health outcomes.
Another recent study looked at anxiety levels in areas with higher levels of greenspace, independent of other individual and geographical factors. They found benefits supportive of improved public mental health.
Hiking is great for anxiety and depression as it is a form of exercise that exposes you to green spaces. Which compounds the benefits of both exercise and green areas. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Improved Sleep Quality
Exercise has been found to have a positive effect on insomnia and sleep disorders. This study found that after 12 weeks of exercise training sleep quality improved in sedentary middle aged adults.
And, this study found that walking in forested areas improved nocturnal sleep conditions for people with prior sleep difficulty. The researchers believed this to possibly be a result of exercise and emotional improvement.
So if you’re looking for a night of shut eye. Hiking might be your natural way of getting a better night of sleep.
Build Better Social Relationships
When it comes to spending time in nature hiking the trails, remember you don’t have to do it alone. Just like any other forms of exercise it can be more fun to do it with some friends or family.
There are many benefits of hiking with others. Here are a couple of benefits to consider:
First, we never know what can happen on the trails so sometimes it’s nice to have another person there for safety. It can be really helpful to split up gear amongst others especially during longer hikes or backpacking.
Second, hiking with others can be a great opportunity to spend time with family, friends, or other loved ones. My spouse and I personally enjoy hiking and having a picnic lunch. It makes for such a relaxing day.
But, whether you like hiking with others or just want to lone wolf it. Hiking will offer great benefits to your ability to build relationships either way.
This research study found that simply being exposed to nature can help our relationships by making us more empathic, helpful, and generous.
Also, there is something to be said with solo hiking. Because sometimes you need to really learn who you are in order to cherish and enjoy relationships with others. Solo hiking can definitely be an avenue for that.
If you’re looking for some hiking buddies there are many resources available. I’d check out MeetUp.com or check out Facebook. There are usually hiking groups on both of those platforms.
Build Relationship with Nature
Out of the 10 health benefits of hiking this one is a little surprising. When it comes to building relationships hiking in the great outdoors has been found to enhance our relationship with nature.
Many current studies are starting to show that when we spend more time in nature. We tend to want to protect it and cherish it more.
One study researched this, suggesting that positive interactions with nature might be important for influencing an individual’s sympathy for conservation goals.
Furthermore, research has also found that the relationship and connectedness to nature has many other benefits.
This study found a relationship between psychological well-being and feelings of connectedness to nature. Furthermore, they found a correlation between connectedness to nature and feeling of vitality.
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Overall, there are many reasons why hiking is good for you. And it’s pretty easy to see that hiking can be a very practical way to improve physical health, mental health, and social participation.
As time goes on, the 10 health benefits of hiking will compound and reward you for the efforts. Though there are those days where you will feel just worn out. Those memories and moments are unforgettable and in the end you’ll be glad you did it.
If you’re looking to get started in hiking you’ve came to the right place. Our mission is to get everyday people outdoors to reap the benefits of nature. We recommend to start with our 10 essentials post and feel free to look at our other posts. Also, keep an eye out for new content!