Get this: you don’t have to be in top shape to take a hike. A walk in nature can be as intense or leisurely as you’d like—and you’ll still be able to reap some of hiking’s biggest rewards.
Getting outside and traversing through trees, boulders, streams, or any green space can transform your mind and body in incredible ways. And we’re not just making this up; there’s plenty of research that suggests that hiking is a unique experience that conveys benefits you won’t find in typical exercise.
Take a look at these five benefits of hiking and the advantages of hitting the trail.
1. Improves Emotional Well-Being.
Hiking in nature can support emotional stability. A form of active therapy, hiking allows you to clear your mind, disconnect from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and find contentment.
Hiking also lifts your mood, promotes mindfulness, and reduces negative thought patterns. As you physically move through a hike, your brain releases endorphins. Increased endorphins may relieve the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
In addition, fresh air and breathing exercises can raise levels of oxygen in your brain, which consequently raises the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood. When your serotonin levels are normal, you feel focused, emotionally stable, calm, and happy.
On your next hike, fill your emotional tank by practicing mindfulness, setting an intention, and concentrating on your breathing.
2. Keeps You Fit.
Unlike other forms of exercise, hiking uses your arms, back, abs, legs, and feet. This makes crossing various terrains an excellent full-body workout. Here’s what hiking does to encourage physical fitness:
- Helps burn calories without losing muscle. Whether you’re climbing fast or slow, the effort and resistance you put into each step count towards your total calorie burn without sacrificing muscle loss.
- Increases muscle strength. With legs supporting your weight and equipment, you build lower body strength using your glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
- Works your core, even though it doesn’t feel like it. By balancing uneven territories and carrying a backpack, you’re engaging your core area and developing abs and obliques.
3. Provides Mental Stimulation.
Hiking and mental health go hand-in-hand and has been linked to several brain-boosting benefits. While on the trail, you’re navigating a route, figuring out the terrain, overcoming obstacles, and searching for trail markers.
With a heightened attention span and focus, you’re exercising your mind’s proprioception, which is an awareness of your body’s position and movement in relation to its surroundings.
Responding to challenges and encountering unpredictable circumstances helps keep your mind sharp. You learn from the obstacles you encounter on a hike, expanding your creativity and enhancing your problem-solving skills.
4. Offers Cardiovascular Health Perks.
Any aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping (like hiking!) is going to improve your cardiovascular health. During a cardio exercise, your muscles circulate blood through the body, shouldering some of the strain on the heart.
As your intensity escalates, your heart beats faster to supply more blood and oxygen to your working muscles. Additionally, the benefits of walking every day and moving your body help your heart become stronger and your blood circulate better.
When your heart is healthy, you reduce your risk for:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
5. Helps Strengthen Relationship.
A major hiking benefit is always having someone to share it with. Getting in nature and away from everyday distractions, you’re more attuned to the people around you. It’s easier to concentrate, empathize, and cooperate with your friend or partner.
Similarly, you’ll learn the value of teamwork and accountability. Hiking can offer unique circumstances, such as narrow pathways, tricky topography, and slippery grounds, that provide opportunities to trust and lean on your hiking partner. By depending on one another to navigate a hike, you strengthen your bond and relationship.
Embrace the Trail with These Hiking Tips
The benefits of hiking extend beyond physical exercise. From improving emotional well-being and promoting mindfulness to stimulating the mind and enhancing cardiovascular health, this outdoor activity has something unique to offer everyone. Additionally, hiking provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships and build deeper connections with your hiking partners. So, lace up your hiking boots, step into nature, and embrace the transformative power of hitting the trail for a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life.