You’ve seen the sights. The rolling plains, majestic mountains, red rock canyons, dense forests, and serenely peaceful lakes. It is easy to see the advantages of hiking and why hiking is appealing. Hiking is a treat for all the senses, and there’s no better, or natural way, to explore and experience the world around you! But did you know that there is an astounding amount of evidence for the benefits of hiking as well? In case you needed more reasons to hit the trails, hiking improves all kinds of human health! There are social, emotional, and physical health benefits of hiking. Looking for more reasons to hit the trails? Here’s 3 advantages of hiking!
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Table of Contents
The Benefits of Hiking
Get ready to explore the multi-faceted and expansive health benefits of hiking, which improve every aspect of well being!
#1: Physical Health Benefits of Hiking
The bottom line is hiking is an aerobic exercise, and thus hiking benefits every system of the body. There is indisputable data showing that the cardio activity from hiking improves vital systems of the body, such as heart health. The health benefits of hiking naturally deter unhealthy levels, such as fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Hiking strengthens many systems, from skeletal strength to muscle strength and coordination. If you are looking for a healthy way to maintain body weight, hiking is a fantastic option.
Improve Heart Health and Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
A heart kept healthy from hiking naturally combats the risk of heart disease. As a form of physical activity, hiking automatically combats heart disease, providing a boost to heart health. Individuals who do not engage in regular physical activity, such as hiking, increase their chances of encountering coronary disease.
Lower Fat, Cholesterol, and Blood Pressure Levels
Regular physical activity, such as hiking, greatly reduces the risk of unwanted levels, such as unhealthy fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels. High blood pressure can lead to other problems like hypertension, heart attack, and stroke, and hiking is a natural way to combat these unhealthy levels.
Improve Bone Density
Since hiking is basically a form of body weight exercise, and since you will be bearing your body weight on your hikes, hiking is a great and natural method for improving and strengthening bone density, and slowing its loss. Strengthening bones leads to a decrease in their susceptibility to breaks. Bonus – hiking is one of the lowest impact activities you can engage in, so while you get all of the bone strengthening benefits of hiking, you can do so without the wear and tear of higher impact activities.
Increase Flexibility, Balance, and Coordination
Walking on naturally uneven surfaces, such as trails, encourages your body to engage your body in order to balance, remain flexible, and improve coordination to conquer unfamiliar terrain. Shifting your weight, navigating odd angles, and balancing your body all lead to natural ways to improve flexibility, balance, and coordination as your body works in harmony with your environment.
Improve Muscle Strength
Hiking engages all the muscle systems in your body, and encourages them to all work together in harmony. There are a few muscle groups that are specifically targeted and strengthened in hiking, including glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the muscle groups in the hips and lower legs. Because hiking is a body weight bearing activity, it naturally strengthens the engaged muscles in that capacity. But it is also a great option for those looking to reap the benefits of hiking, without being too harsh on the muscles, joints, and tendons that other activities come with, like road running.
Control Body Weight Healthily
Those who hike regularly are better able to not only lower body weight healthily, but they are able to maintain that body weight naturally through regular hiking activities and aerobic exercise, which is a more sustainable way to maintain long term healthy weight, than dieting or fasting.
#2: Emotional Benefits of Hiking
Hiking naturally lowers the unwanted emotional side effects of the daily grind, while boosting mood and providing a channel for beneficial habits!
Lower Stress Levels
Hiking has been shown to actively combat the symptoms of stress and anxiety, providing a valuable outlet while releasing endorphins. Hiking is described by those whose subscribe to it as the most effective way to calm the mind and body. A calmed and quieted mind leads to lower anxiety. Hiking in nature is one of the most effective methods of achieving a calmed mind.
There is a mountain of data and research demonstrating a positive correlation between hiking and improved mood (due largely in part to the lowered stress levels as aforementioned and the release of endorphins).
Improve Mental Wellbeing
Hiking keeps the mind sharp, the senses engaged, and your creativity alive! Mental wellbeing needs stimulation and engagement. Navigating the unfamiliar, both literal and figurative, is a great way to accomplish this. Your brain needs challenge, and it needs critical thinking skills. From making adjustments on unpredictable terrain, to adjusting to problems on the trail, to engaging with fellow hikers, to accomplishing goals, to improving your health and combating negative symptoms, all these can be achieved through the benefits of hiking, and lead to improved mental wellbeing.
Sharpen Your Sensory Perception
Hiking engages all your senses, and offsets some of that mental fatigue we all experience at time! Surveying your surroundings, listening for signs on the trail, smelling the fresh air, etc. Unplug from technology, and get in touch with nature instead!
Goal Setting and Accomplishment
A healthy habit for any individual to practice is to know how to set goals, persist through them, and accomplish them. Goal setting is an important factor in emotional health and one of the top advantages of hiking endeavors.
Hiking encourages both short term and long term goal setting. Maybe your goal is to hike twice a week. Maybe your goal it to climb your first 14’er. Or maybe, like me, your goal is to hike to the state high points of all 50 US states! Whatever your short term or long term goals may be involving hiking, hiking allows you that outlet to create and pursue those goals, which breeds creativity, determination, and persistence.
Practice Problem Solving
Not every hike will go exactly as planned. I have experienced my own botched hiking circumstances, like when I got lost overnight on a hike through Utah’s Uintas! Hiking is a great way to practice problem solving skills, from malfunctioning hiking gear, to getting lost on the trail, to overcoming injuries.
Practicing problem solving skills on the trail transfers to many situations in life where problem solving skills are necessary. And as on some hikes, you may not have access to internet, so you can’t just Google the answer to your problem. You may need to rely on yourself, your knowledge, and your ability to put problem solving into practice.
Learn New Skills
In order to be a safe and responsible hiker, it is important to become knowledgeable and learn the skills you need to hike.
You need to know how to pack the 10 essentials in your backpack. You may need to learn how to start a fire, how to filter water, how to dress appropriately for cold weather hiking, or how to safely hike solo. Hiking provides a natural opportunity to learn new skills, which is highly beneficial for social emotional health.
And the other great thing about hiking? It provides the opportunity to be a lifelong learner, because there is always new knowledge and practices worth learning about when it comes to hiking!
#3: Social Benefits of Hiking
There are plenty of social opportunities of hiking! Not only do you get to share all the benefits of hiking with someone else, the natural setting of hiking allows for more meaningful social engagements, away from the distractions of phones, television, or social media. Have a conversation instead, and make some discoveries together!
Bonding with Friends and Family
One of the advantages of hiking is that it is a great way to share memories with others! As mentioned before, hiking may be one of the most natural environments for having meaningful, uninterrupted conversations, or working together to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. It can draw you closer, as you share in the benefits of hiking together, and jointly encourage each other in this healthy pursuit.
Not only will you experience a stronger bond with family and friends as one of the benefits of hiking, but you may find yourself sharing bonds with fellow hikers. Whereas in our regular daily lives, when we may find ourselves becoming overly-reliant on ourselves and detached from others, on the trail, it can be extremely beneficial to rely on your fellow trekkers.
Ask them about obstacles or pitfalls up ahead. Pick their brains on what is upcoming on the trail. Get assistance from them in the event of an injury or bad weather. And should you ever find yourself in a situation where you are immobilized or lost, you will greatly appreciate the way that fellow hikers look out for each other by always being attentive to their surroundings, and keeping an eye and ear out for each other!
Share Knowledge with Others
Remember all those new skills you learned? One of the advantages of hiking is now you can share them with others and teach others, as a natural bonding and learning experience. Teach others how to start a fire, how to filter water, or what the 10 categories of hiking essentials are! Benefit not only your own hiking experience, but the hiking experience of others as well!
Solo Hiking Experiences
Solo hiking contains all the advantages of hiking listed above, with the potentially added bonuses of experiencing all those benefits solo! While solo hiking can be intimidating, it can be a freeing and confidence building experience, one in which you get to experience independence, problem solving skills on your own, and solo discovery!
There is something about individual achievement, goal accomplishment, and solo problem solving that is a confidence booster! You may also find one of the solo benefits of hiking is that your mind clears on a solo hike, or that you have those necessary “conversations” with yourself that don’t always happen in our normal, busy, distracted, routines.
You may think that there is no room for social benefits of hiking when you are alone, but you might be surprised at what social opportunities may arise when you hit the trails solo! Collaborating with others on the trail, encouraging fellow hikers, and meeting fellow trekkers can all happen on a solo hike, as long as they are conducted safely and responsibly.
Solo hiking can be done safely and responsibly, and does not have to be intimidating. These are 7 practical tips that you can follow that will keep you responsible on the trails solo.
There you have it, all the benefits to hiking! As if you needed more reasons to hit the trails!
Wanna hike more, but live at low elevation? You can prepare for all kinds of hiking, no matter where you live, with these 6 straightforward and simple home hiking training exercises!
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