No matter where you live, you can probably find some great hikes within a relatively short drive of your home. If you’re fortunate, you may have some pretty scenic hiking trails nearby. Even during the winter months, you can still replicate a hike on your treadmill by adding plenty of inclines, although it’s not the same as being outdoors. So why should you consider making hiking a part of your life and regular routine?
The evidence points to quite a few benefits of taking a hike, at least every once and a while.
Any Exercise Is Good
Most of us are far too sedentary due to our modern lifestyles. Any time you’re adding more physical activity to your life, it’s going to be a good thing. Hiking is a great way to get exercise, and you’re going to work your whole body.
Hiking helps you build stronger bones and muscles, improving your sense of balance.
You can choose hikes that are within your fitness abilities. For example, you can simply walk along a relatively flat path if that’s what’s best for your right now. Over time, as you develop your abilities or become more comfortable with hiking, you can challenge yourself to steeper inclines.
Hiking is ultimately just walking, and walking is one of the best things we can do for our health, yet many of us don’t do it nearly enough.
Getting more physical activity can help you maintain or lose weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is critical for reducing your risk of chronic illnesses.
Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease
We touched on the fact that exercising, being generally active, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Some particular examples of this include:
- When you hike, it lowers your risk of hypertension. Almost one-third of American adults have hypertension, which is high blood pressure. Sometimes, we hear hypertension referred to as the silent killer because you may not recognize the symptoms. Hypertension can lead to serious complications, including heart attack and stroke. Physical activity can lower your blood pressure by anywhere from 4-10 points. Maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce it by 5-20 points.
- Diabetes rates in Americans are up nearly 50% from 1983. Diabetes can be caused by multiple factors, including a lack of exercise. You can actually reverse the course of diabetes if you exercise, lose weight and follow a healthy diet.
- Obesity is considered a chronic disease, and it’s a significant source of disability in the U.S. Hiking can be easy on the joints and low-impact and can help reduce obesity. For example, you can burn anywhere from 200 to 250 calories an hour if you walk at a rate of 2.5 miles an hour.
- Researchers from the University of Washington found women with osteoporosis who walked for an hour three days a week increased their spinal bone density and other areas of their body by 6% over nine months.
Doing any kind of physical activity, including hiking, is good for your mental health. Exercise helps naturally raise levels of feel-good brain chemicals. When you hike, you’re also helping your mental health if you get outdoors. Fresh air and sunlight can instantly lift your mood and reduce mental health disorder symptoms.
You can also improve your self-esteem and feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete a hike.
Going outside for a hike can give you a more positive outlook on your life and the world.
You Can Take a Technology Break
Being connected to technology can have benefits but also plenty of downsides. Most of us are rarely disconnected from our phones or an internet connection at any given time. If you hike, you might not even have the option to be connected to your phone.
Being outside and hiking gives you the chance to disconnect and unplug.
Getting enough high-quality sleep is necessary to be mentally and physically healthy, yet it’s something many of us are lacking. Research shows regularly exercising and also getting outdoors can reduce insomnia symptoms and improve sleep patterns.
If you take a morning hike, in particular, early exposure to sunlight helps your body produce melatonin, the sleep hormone at night.
Finally, hiking can be a social activity. Whether you go hiking with friends or family, or maybe a hiking group, it gives you the chance to be around other people, which helps you stay cognitively sharp and feel positive about your life.