Are you ready to embark on an adventure that not only benefits your body but also nourishes your mind and soul? Hiking offers a unique opportunity to explore the great outdoors while reaping numerous health and wellness advantages. In this blog post, we’ll uncover the physical, mental, and social health benefits of hiking, along with essential tips to make your trekking experience safe and enjoyable.
Physical Advantages of Hiking
Hiking is more than just a leisurely stroll through the woods it’s a full-body workout that offers many benefits to your overall health. With every step, you’re boosting heart health, strengthening muscles and bones, and promoting weight loss. But the rewards don’t stop there; hiking also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and enhances your body’s ability to respond to insulin, reducing the risk of heart disease.
We’ll delve deeper into these physical benefits.
Boosting Heart Health
When it comes to cardiovascular health, hiking is a heart-pumping activity that can do wonders. For a lot of people hiking is a great start to any cardiovascular program because it is fairly easy to get into and appeals to a wide range of people. Hiking also serves as a potent physical activity to manage hypertension. Therefore, it’s beneficial to put on your hiking boots and venture out on the trails.
People often think they need to do a lot of cardio to get benefits but just 30 minutes of hiking per day can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, research has found hiking can cause significant benefits to functional aerobic capacity and endurance. And these benefits were realized in only 3 months!
Strengthening Muscles and Bones
Hiking isn’t just about cardiovascular fitness; it’s also a fantastic weight-bearing exercise that can help build strong muscles and improve bone density. Traversing uneven terrain is an excellent way to increase bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Engaging in moderate to high-level hikes is more beneficial than strolling on a flat trail, as it helps strengthen bone tissue and improve overall bone health. 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.
Promoting Weight Loss
Looking for a fun and rewarding way to lose weight? Hiking is an excellent form of cardio exercise that can help you burn body fat and achieve your weight loss goals. Plus, hiking can help lower high blood pressure.
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 focusing 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.
A combination of hiking, muscle strengthening, and 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 just a slight calorie deficit.
Mental Health Perks of Hiking
Hiking isn’t just a physical endeavor it’s also a powerful tool for enhancing mental well-being. From stress reduction to mood enhancement and improved cognitive function, spending time in nature offers many health benefits, including numerous mental health benefits.
We’ll delve into the mental benefits of hiking more thoroughly.
Reducing Stress and Anxiety
Hiking in nature is a natural stress buster. The serenity of the great outdoors, combined with the release of endorphins, promotes a sense of calm and well-being.
Stanford University conducted a study in 2015 revealing that a mere 90-minute walk in nature can markedly decrease rumination which is the constant replay of thoughts and anxieties and lessen activity in brain areas associated with mental illness.
This study revealed that forested 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 (forest bathing) as a therapeutic. In Japan shinrin-yoku means to walk and/or stay in forests.
They found that walking or being in forested areas (known as forest bathing) 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.
Boosting Mood and Self-Esteem
Hiking is more than just a mood booster; it’s also a powerful way to increase self-esteem and foster a positive outlook on life. Conquering new challenges and pushing your limits can help cultivate feelings of self-confidence and accomplishment.
Plus, hiking releases serotonin and norepinephrine, which can help ease feelings of depression. So, swap those city streets for winding trails and experience the healthy benefits of the great outdoors.
Enhancing Cognitive Function
Hiking isn’t just a workout for your body it’s also a workout for your brain. Research shows that hiking stimulates different parts of the brain and creates new pathways, improving cognitive function, memory, and problem-solving abilities.
In fact, the memory-boosting potential of hiking and being in nature is far greater than that of walking in urban areas. 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 that showed improving mental health.
Social Aspects of Hiking
Hiking provides a lot of opportunity for social participation that fosters connections, strengthens community ties, and promotes relationship-building. Whether you’re hitting the trail with family, friends, or a hiking group, shared outdoor adventures can create lasting bonds and memories.
We’ll delve deeper into the social facets of hiking.
Forming Bonds and Friendships
Hiking with others in everyday life or even out on trails like the Appalachian Trail can provide the perfect opportunity to form deep, meaningful connections and create lifelong friendships. The shared experiences, communication, and teamwork required during a multi-day backpacking trip can have a profound and enduring effect on relationships.
Hiking is more than just a way to explore nature it’s also an excellent means of building a sense of community and belonging. Hiking encourages social interaction and support, fostering a tight-knit community of like-minded individuals.
Join a hiking group, participate in local trail clean-ups, or simply strike up a conversation with fellow hikers. 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.
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.
Unplugging and Reconnecting
In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, taking a break from screens and devices is more important than ever. Hiking provides the perfect opportunity to unplug from the digital world and reconnect with yourself, nature, and others.
The benefits of unplugging and reconnecting are numerous: reduced stress and anxiety, boosted mood and self-esteem, and enhanced cognitive function. So, leave your phone behind, breathe in the fresh air, and experience the restorative power of nature.
Hiking Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Experience
Preparedness and adequate equipment are vital for a safe and enjoyable hike. We’ll provide indispensable tips for a successful hike, including gear selection, hydration and nourishment, and maintaining a steady pace.
Choosing the Right Gear
Choosing suitable hiking gear is pivotal to ensure your comfort and safety on the trails. The right footwear, clothing, and equipment can make all the difference in your hiking experience. Look for shoes with sturdy soles, good ankle support, and grippy tread.
As for other essentials, consider packing.
- A backpack
- A trail map
- Safety supplies
- The ten essentials (navigation tools, headlamp, sun protection, first aid kit, knife, fire starter, emergency shelter, and extra food)
This will ensure you have a safe and enjoyable journey.
Staying Hydrated and Nourished
Keeping hydrated and well-nourished during hikes is vital for maintaining energy levels and fostering overall health. Drink water frequently, carry water with you, and monitor the frequency and color of your urine to ensure you stay hydrated.
Pre-hydrate by drinking water the day before your hike and consider adding electrolytes to your water to maintain hydration levels. For nourishment, eat a balanced diet including snacks high in protein and carbohydrates to fuel your body and keep you energized throughout your trek.
Pacing Yourself and Listening to Your Body
In order to avoid injuries and enhance your hiking experience, it’s important to maintain a steady pace and pay attention to your body’s signals. Adjust your hiking intensity and duration to match your fitness level by starting with shorter hikes and gradually increasing the distance and difficulty as your fitness level improves.
Take regular breaks and stay in tune with your body’s needs to ensure a safe, enjoyable, and rewarding adventure.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does hiking do for your body?
Hiking is a great way to improve your physical health, as it builds muscle and bone mass, improves balance and cardiovascular health, and can even reduce the risk of certain respiratory problems. Hiking up hills also provides an aerobic workout that helps improve endurance and fitness levels.
Why hiking is better than the gym?
Hiking is not necessarily better than the gym but weightlifting in conjunction with cardio like hiking can provide optimal benefits that will strengthen the heart and muscles.
What happens if you hike everyday?
Outdoor exercise is great for your physical and mental health. Hiking can help you burn calories to lose weight, improve sleep quality, strengthen muscles, reduces disease and optimizes endurance while reducing stress.
Hiking is a multifaceted activity that offers physical, mental, and social benefits, making it the perfect way to stay fit, healthy, and connected. From boosting heart health, strengthening muscles and bones, and promoting weight loss, to reducing stress, enhancing mood, and improving cognitive function, hiking truly has something for everyone.
Editor note: This post was originally published Sept 01, 2022, and has been updated for more accuracy and comprehensiveness.