Hiking is an incredibly entertaining and exhilarating sport. It allows you to get out in the wilderness, explore the world you live in, and improve your personal well-being in the process. In this article, I’ll go over just what health benefits you can expect to receive, as well as some of the potential risk factors.
Cardiovascular Endurance and Hiking
One of the most obvious, but also one of the best benefits of hiking is the enhancements it can help you bring to your cardiovascular system. As with most forms of exercise, it is great for improving your stamina, energy, resting heart rate, and even you weight.
According to Julie Corliss, Executive Editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, hiking can improve the strength of your abdominal muscles far better than other forms of exercise like walking on a treadmill. The balance required to stay upright on uneven sections of trail naturally activates your core muscles, leading to highly developed core strength.
Natural Stress Relief
Many studies have shown that being in nature naturally (ha!) reduces stress levels. High levels of stress can lead to unfavorable conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. Getting outdoors into green areas such as parks and forests, you will be reducing your overall stress while also getting the actual enjoyment of the hike.
Improve Bone Density
This was an especially surprising one for me. Since hiking is a load-bearing exercise, meaning you are actively pressing your weight upward, you will naturally improve the bone density in your legs and lower back. This is especially important if you are older and are looking for a good way to get some exercise.
Boost Your Mood
Hand in hand with relieving stress, being outdoors is proven to improve your mood. According to Gregory Miller, president of the American Hiking Society, “Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety.” Are you feeling anxious or nervous about something? Hiking is a great way to mull it over, and many people even consider it a sort of meditation.
Tips to Get the Most Benefit Out of Hiking
It’s natural to want to start with a large mountain or a long trail, but that isn’t always the best idea. Only you can judge your current skill level. We recommend starting with some small (<0.5 mile) hikes in your area that you can do once or twice a week. Once you really have a handle on going along the trails, avoiding rocks and twigs, and ascending inclines, then you can move on to longer and more strenuous hikes.
Don’t Just Look at Length
There are .5 mile hikes that are harder than 5-mile hikes. Even if they are on the same mountain, the length of the hike only tells half of the story. There are tons of resources that you can use to find the difficulty of a hike. We recommend that beginners not try any hikes that require bouldering, crag climbing, or rappelling as these are advanced tactics.
Contrary to what you might believe, poles actually improve how much health benefit you receive from hiking. They take some of the pressure off of your core, but they engage otherwise dormant muscle groups in your arms, shoulders, and upper back. Not only do they make your hike more enjoyable, but they also make it safer and more beneficial.
Practice Hiking At Home
If you’re serious about hiking but can’t get to the mountain as often as you like, practice at home or in your local area! Surely you can find a small hill or patch of trees that you can practice going through at different paces. Drills like running up and down a hill can help to develop the muscles that you need for long-haul hikes with steep inclines.
Practice Safe Hiking
It is super important to have the right safety gear every time you go. Even if it’s just a short little hike, there is the potential that you could slip and hurt yourself. At the very least, you should carry a hiking first aid kit, a map of your area, a compass, and a pocket knife.
Bring a Buddy when Hiking
This isn’t essential, but it is important for beginners. You should always bring a buddy any time you are traveling on a path that you’ve never before traversed. If you hurt yourself, they can help you get back to the trailhead or they can get help in really extreme cases. Besides the safety aspect, it’s also just good practice to have someone to talk to! Having a partner to hike with makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
Hiking is an incredibly fun and exhilarating sport. It can help you to improve your mood and get stronger. It can help you improve your blood pressure, your heart rate, and your body fat percentage. As long as you hike safely, and prepare yourself with the right gear, you will have a great time. I hope that this guide was helpful in explaining how hiking can improve your health.