Hiking & Physical Fitness
When it comes to finding an exercise activity that masks itself as a fun hobby, few offer the mental and physical benefits of hiking. Whether it’s the outdoor setting, the way no one hike is exactly like another, or the social interaction it offers, hiking is a must for anyone looking to spice up their workout routine or social life:
Top 5 Reasons to Take a Hike
#1. Hiking Can Benefit Your Mental Health
Find yourself brooding over stressful thoughts and feelings? While running on a treadmill or swimming laps might briefly help you clear your mind, research has shown that walking in nature can actually reduce your inclination to ruminate on negative thoughts and improve your attentiveness and stress relief. From the beautiful surroundings and scenery to the relaxing sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling, it’s no wonder that hiking nature trails can boost your mood and sense of wellbeing.
#2. Hiking May Lower Risk of Falling
When you think about hiking, especially for older adults, it’s easy to be fearful of tripping over a rock, catching your foot on a tree root, or slipping on slick leaves. The truth is, however, that the act of hiking can actually hone balance and coordination skills to potentially prevent future falls. Navigating trails with tricky obstacles like large rocks and tree roots, and strengthening leg muscles and bones with weight-bearing walking up and down slopes, hikers can enhance their own agility and coordination and potentially even prolong their mobility.
Concerned about uneven surfaces? Hiking sticks and trekking poles are great tools for helping you gain extra balance and cover more ground on your journey. Click here for a list of the best rated trekking poles.
#3. Hiking Can Keep You Social
While getting back to nature by yourself might make a great solitary retreat, it’s hiking with friends and family that offers the fabulous benefits of social interaction. Picking a trail together, making a day of it, packing a sack lunch to eat at the summit . . . hiking is a great activity to do with your kids or friends, especially when you incorporate it with overnight camping and bonfires. Don’t have a friend who is willing to join you? Look for local hiking groups near you on Meetup.com.
#4. Hiking Can Motivate You to Exercise
A 2017 report suggests that unlike more common yet tedious exercise programs, hiking might be a physically active alternative with just as many health benefits that people with diabetes specifically can feel more motivated to take part in. Experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, however, many people simply don’t make the time or can’t find the inspiration to stick with it. Activities like hiking provide an engaging and less daunting alternative to stuffy gyms and rigorous exercise programs that might help some people better keep up with their exercise routines.
#5. Hiking Can Tackle Common Pains
Like other low-impact activities including cycling, swimming, and tennis, hiking offers moderate to high-intensity exercise which can help combat common pains associated with low back strain or arthritis, for example. The movement and range of motion required from hiking help to loosen stiff joints and relieve muscle tension, and the enhanced mood and social interaction can combat stress-related manifestations of pain as well.
Quick Hiking Tips and Reminders
Don’t miss these quick hiking best practices and important reminders:
- Even under cloud cover, it’s important to remember sun protection when hiking outdoors: sunblock, sunglasses, hats, etc.
- Stay hydrated! Never going hiking, even on a short trail, without a bottle of water. You never know when you might get held up (injured, lost, etc).
- Hiking can burn hundreds of calories an hour. Boost your caloric burn by adding weight to your day back and increasing the challenge on your body.
- Use an app like AllTrails or ViewRanger to find great trails near where you live, and always know your way, even if it means hiking with a paper map of the trail.
- Learn common hiking terminology and know-how, like what a switchback is or how to follow trail markers, to ensure that you are prepared and safe.
- Track weather forecasts before you head out on a trail with apps like Weather.com or DarkSky.
- Wear proper footwear, like hiking boots, which can support your feet and ankles successfully when navigating uneven surfaces, inclines, and narrow passages.
- Pace yourself. Using all your energy to reach the summit will leave you exhausted on your hike back down the trail to your car or campsite.
The Bottom Line
Hiking might not seem like a viable outdoor exercise option during the fall and winter months, however, on warmer days with lots of sunlight, it can be even more glorious than the best summer hike. Just remember to wear layers, head out earlier in the day (as the sun sets earlier in winter), and take a friend!