Five Reasons Why Hiking Benefits Health
By Tara Walker-Rose
There are many reasons why people enjoy hiking outdoors, and once you are bitten by the trail-bug it can be hard to resist your next outdoor adventure. Hiking is great exercise, but did you know there are more to the health benefits of exercise than meets the eye? Here are five ways that hiking benefits health, and more reasons for a ramble in the countryside!
1. Great Exercise
One of the most obvious health benefits of hiking is that it is good all-round exercise that anyone can do.
Have you ever felt the effect of reaching the top of a steep hill? That heart-pumping, out of breath feeling shows what a great cardio workout hiking can be. Not only is this good for heart health, but it can help lower blood pressure and increase the efficiency of the lungs.
Physical exercise like hiking helps build stronger bones and muscles, improves your core balance and increases stamina. As hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, the more you do it, the stronger the muscles become. Being outdoors in a natural light tops up the body’s reserves of vitamin D too, which is important for strong, healthy bones.
Any exercise is good for the body, but hiking has added benefits. Unlike using a treadmill or exercise bike, walking on trails brings uneven surfaces. You may have to hop over boulders, climb stiles, and more. This works all of the muscle groups in your body, including ones which otherwise see little use, and engages your brain to make sure you stay upright!
Hiking burns calories, which can help you lose weight. How many calories you burn per hour will depend on how challenging the terrain is, how fast you walk and how heavy your backpack is. But, every time you head out for a moderate hike, you can expect to use an average of 300-400 calories per hour. Who needs to pay for a gym membership when there are hills to climb for free?
2. Improves and Maintains Mental Health
Being outside and spending time in nature has many benefits for mental well-being.
The act of walking outside can be meditative, helping us to focus on the present moment. This may help to relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety, as it provides relief from pressures of work and other problems in life. When you are outside walking in a natural environment, it makes you aware that the world is about much more than the bubble we live in at work and home.
Ever heard of forest bathing? This stress-relieving activity is big in Japan, where people head off into the forests to spend time unplugging from modern life. Well, it works! When you go hiking, you immerse yourself in nature – whether you’re amongst the trees, on open moorland or nestled in a secluded valley.
When you stop to appreciate the wonders of nature, and use all your senses to be present in your surroundings, you get exactly the same benefits that health gurus are raving about!
Hiking outdoors can be a key benefit for those suffering with depression. Physical exercise helps release endorphins, which help relieve pain and stress, as well as increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin in our body, which cause the well-known “runners’ high” because they boost your mood and sense of well-being.
When done regularly, hiking may improve your productivity, outlook and attitude to life. Getting outdoors is a great way to escape life’s stresses, focus your thoughts and clear your head of the mental chaff which modern life has a habit of piling on us.
3. Boosts Creativity
People often go for a walk to clear their heads, but did you know that it can help boost creativity and thinking power too?
When you are faced with a challenge, it can sometimes be difficult to figure a solution. Going outside for a walk temporarily removes you from the distractions and to-do lists, allowing your mind to relax, refresh, and gain new perspective.
Amazingly, many people report greater problem solving skills after walking outside, or you may be hit with a ‘eureka!’ moment to solve a problem.
One study has shown that spending time in natural environments can even improve cognitive functions, like memory.
4. Builds the Immune System
Getting outdoors removes us from our sterile environments and exposes us to many micro-organisms, but that can be a good thing! Being in contact with these organisms helps us to build a strong immune system.
A study by Japanese scientists showed that after walking outside in a natural environment, participant’s white blood cells increased by 40 percent. These immune system benefits last, as when tested again a month later, the white blood cells were still raised. This shows that after hiking, the body is better equipped to fight off any potential illness from viruses or infections.
So, if you are worried about colds and flu, going for a hike every week may be enough to help keep you well and healthy!
5. Strengthens Friendships
Hiking can be a way of finding solitude when you need it, however it can also be a great social activity. When you go hiking with a companion, you spend a lot of time together without the distractions of modern life – a great opportunity to talk while you walk!
Being able to open up and talk freely helps to strengthen the bonds of friendship or can help you get to know each other more closely, sharing experiences which you will always remember.
Hiking as a social activity can be really beneficial for people who struggle with loneliness. Feeling alone has a negative effect on mental and physical health, but joining a regular walking group can be a great way to make new friends and increase a support network.
Walking outside is what humans are built to do. Most of our history on Earth has been spent as hunter-gatherers, and it is only in recent history that we have sprawling urban areas, day jobs, and an increase in sedentary lifestyles. It makes sense that hiking outdoors makes us feel great!
Going hiking means we can access that feel-good factor anytime we choose, and it is an activity that anyone can do. You don’t need special equipment to get started other than a good pair of boots or trainers.
With so many footpaths and trails that criss-cross the country, all we have to do is step out the door. So, for a full body work out and a mood-boost that lasts – grab your boots and head for the hills!
Whether you’re new to hiking and would like to experience the health benefits for yourself, or you’re a seasoned walker looking for your next big adventure, why not check out our extensive range of walking holidays? Visit our website at www.mickledore.co.uk or give us a call to discuss which route is the best fit for you.