Who’s up for a hike?
Growing up, I frequently hiked with my parents and siblings, and it’s an activity I’ve stuck with into adulthood. Hiking is now part of my daily life, and I can tell you, I am always amazed by how much good vibes and benefits I get from this!
Are you interested in hiking? Are you a new hiker looking for reasons to get started? Here are seven great benefits of hiking:
1. It’s an Effective Cardio Workout
Regular hikes lower your blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and more importantly, it reduces the risk of heart disease. Even a moderate amount of hiking delivers these benefits. Experts recommend walking for at least 150 minutes a week, which works out to less than 30 minutes a day.
Note that these benefits start to apply at any age, so it’s never too late to start!
2. It Helps Improve Your Mental Health
Hiking doesn’t just benefit your body. It benefits your mental health, too! Stanford researchers found that hiking for 90 minutes in a natural (as opposed to an urban) setting helps reduce depression. The study also found that city dwellers have a 20% increased risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders than folks who live in rural locations. If you’re a city dweller, just prioritize spending time in nature!
3. It Helps You Lose Weight
Even a mild or moderate hike burns calories and helps you lose weight. Generally, you’ll burn more calories when traversing a nature trail than walking on flat pavement, especially if you’re hiking at high elevations.
To maximize your weight loss efforts, walk quickly up hills and slow your pace when going downhill. Also, trekking poles keep your arms moving, which helps burn additional calories. When using hiking poles, make sure they’re the correct size. The top of the handle should sit at waist level when you stand.
Finally, go easy on the post-hike eating and drinking. While a celebratory beer or piece of pizza is probably fine, if you consume too many calories, you’ll just undo all your hard work.
4. It Can Strengthen Your Relationships
While hiking is a great solo activity, it’s often even better with a partner or group. Hiking with someone is a fun and healthy way to bond. Plus, an encouraging partner can help you stay motivated on long or strenuous hikes. Plus, hiking with others increases everyone’s safety. If you’re on a solo hike, even something as minor as a twisted ankle can quickly turn into a serious situation. However, if you have somebody with you, they can help you or seek out help from someone else.
5. It’s Available in Every State
No matter where you live, great hiking is likely only a short drive away at most. The US has over 17,000 miles of National Scenic Trails, in addition to an untold number of state-created trails. Most of the time, access to hiking trails is free.
Note that you should only hike on designated trails. Going off-trail not only substantially increases your risk of injury, but your steps can damage fragile flora and fauna.
If you’re not sure where good hiking trails are located near you, search for state parks in your area. They often offer plenty of options across a variety of skill levels.
6. It’s Easy and Cheap
Hiking is easy for practically anyone. It requires no expensive equipment or costly fees. You can throw a few items in a backpack and head out.
Plus, you can go at your own pace. If you’re not in the best shape right now, you can start by hiking short, beginner trails that provide a solid workout but won’t completely wear you out. However, as you build up strength and endurance, you can switch to longer, steeper hikes.
Also, bad weather is less of a problem than many people realize. While you probably don’t want to hike when it’s actively raining or snowing, you can hike when the ground is wet or snow-covered. Hiking is an activity most people can enjoy all year round.
7. It’s Safe
While hiking does include certain potential dangers, you can reduce the risks considerably by packing appropriate hiking gear.
First, dress appropriately. The weather can change in an instant, so always wear layers. Even if you’re hiking on a sunny day, bring along a rain jacket and a thermal outer layer. Also, wear hiking boots or trail runners, as regular sneakers don’t provide enough support or protection.
Fortunately, hiking doesn’t require any expensive or elaborate gear, but you should still bring the following items to stay safe:
- Water – As a general rule, bring along 500 ml of water for every hour you plan to hike. More is always better if possible!
- Food – You want food rich in calories to help provide energy in an emergency. Popular options include granola bars, Snickers, and trail mix.
- First Aid Kit – A store-bought first aid kit will work fine in most situations. Aside from basics like bandages and antibiotic ointment, the kit should also include foot-specific remedies such as athletic tape and moleskin.
- Lighter or Matches – Waterproof matches or a dependable lighter allow you to build a campfire if outdoor temperature drops or you become lost.
Store your gear in a durable, lightweight backpack. Pack enough gear to stay safe, but not so much that the pack bites into your shoulders.
Whether you want to improve your health, reduce stress, or simply enjoy some time in nature, hiking offers numerous advantages over other types of exercises and activities. It’s affordable, requires no extravagant gear, and can be done either solo or with friends. Plus, it promotes healthy heart functions, improves strength, and enhances mental clarity.
The benefits of hiking are vast and varied. So, grab your boots, head out to your favorite trail, and hike your way to better health today!