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I’m just a little obsessed with hiking. At home and on the road, getting outside and on the trails is one of my favorite things to do. Aside from taking you to see some of the most beautiful parts of the world, there are many physical and mental benefits of hiking that you might not realize. From keeping your mind sharp, body fit, and improving creativity, these benefits of hiking will have you hitting the trails.
If you haven’t hiked before, now is a better time than ever to start. It’s one of the safer activities to do during the pandemic, and many governments are actually recommending hiking as a way to cope with the stress of everything going on. At the end of this post, I’ve included some tips on how you can get started hiking!
Mental Benefits of Hiking
Helps you be more present
I’m a firm believer that a present life is a happy one, and hiking is great at helping you stay in the moment. When you step into the wilderness, it gives your mind a break from the constant thoughts and worries of everyday life. Hiking can provide similar benefits that meditation does. After a hike, I always feel more calm, grateful, and accepting of what is.
These feelings are only amplified on multi-day hikes. When I finished hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I felt more at peace with the earth than I ever have. I was dreading turning my phone back on!
Hiking and happiness go hand in hand or foot in boot.– Diane Spicer (find more hiking quotes here).
Hiking helps reduce stress in many ways. The physical exercise will release endorphins, which are known to combat stress. It also immerses you in nature, which can have powerful effects on your mind. Hiking inspires positive thinking by reducing remuneration (negative thought patterns) and the anxiety that goes along with it. Hiking gives us a much-needed space to recharge our busy minds.
Helps with Anxiety & Depression
Any form of physical exercise is good for mental health, but hiking is particularly good at doing this because it immerses you in nature. Studies have found that people who spend more time in nature are less anxious. I know this is certainly true for me.
Hiking provides a change of scenery from our daily routines which can be a simple tool to combat depression and anxiety. Plus it releases those sweet, sweet endorphins that make us feel oh so happy. 2020 has been a crazy year, and hiking the East Coast Trail around St. John’s has been a lifeline for me to clear my head during these times.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.– John Muir
Keeps your Mind Sharp
While all forms of exercise are good for you, hiking has a unique benefit in that it’s been shown to keep your mind sharp. Hiking involves navigation over a trail, which is not predictable.
Hidden obstacles, slippery paths, and wild animals cause us to make micro-adjustments to the route, which is great for your brain and problem-solving ability. Hiking exercises the part of your mind that helps you navigate through life. Over time, hiking will help you navigate other areas of your life off the trails.
Physical Health Benefits of Hiking
Improved Cardiovascular Fitness
Hiking is my cardio.
But seriously, hiking is awesome cardio that will help improve your cardiovascular fitness levels. It gets your heart rate up, lungs moving, and blood pumping. Over time, this can reduce your chances of certain illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.
Builds Muscle Strength
Hiking is excellent for building muscle strength around different parts of your body. Legs and butt are the obvious ones, but hiking can also benefit your lower back and core. Hiking uphill is similar to stairclimbers or repetitive lunges, except it’s a lot more fun. This movement strengthens your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves! End result = fit legs.
If the terrain you are hiking on is uneven, it can also help improve other muscles that don’t often get used, such as your calves. Navigating tough terrain also requires your abs, obliques, and lower back to work at keeping your body stabilized. You can even add hiking poles to get those benefits to your arms too.
As someone who spends a lot of time crouched over their laptop travel blogging, hiking is a great way to mitigate the effects of that and keep my body strong.
Did you know just one hour of hiking can burn up to 500 calories? Add incline to that, and you’ll be burning even more. I’m always shocked when I look at my apple watch and see how many calories I’ve burned after a hike. Hiking burns so many more calories than walking because of the uneven terrain. This results in a dynamic workout that increases your heart and metabolic rate, which in turn increases the number of calories burned.
We don’t stop hiking because we grow old – we grow old because we stop hiking.– Finish Mitchell (Find more hiking quotes here)
Other Benefits of Hiking
Hiking can also boost your creativity. It provides space away from technology and puts you in the present moment, which can help bring clarity to problems. The natural setting gives our minds a new place to connect ideas that are floating around.
For years, artists have been using hiking as a tool for creative inspiration. I know when I’m suffering from writer’s block, a walk in the woods is often the cure. While it’s not exactly known why it’s been shown that hiking can help you solve problems more quickly and creatively.
If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.– Raymond Inmon
Helps develop a Positive Relationship with the World
Hiking also helps us develop a positive relationship with the world around us. Walking through nature will allow you to gain an appreciation for this amazing world we live in. Developing this relationship will hopefully result in more concern for the world around us and a commitment to conservation efforts.
Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.– Walt Whitman
While solo hiking has its own benefits, hiking with a partner or friend has social benefits. Working towards a common goal helps to build bonds in relationships, so if you’re navigating a trail with someone, you’ll feel a sense of connection after completing it. Hiking can also be an excellent way to meet other people, from making friends on the trail to joining hiking meetup groups in your city.
A good friend listens to your adventures. A best friend makes them with you.– Unknown
How to Get Started Hiking
Wanna go hiking yet? The great part about hiking is that almost anyone can do it with a little planning and preparation.
If you have friends or family members who hike, ask them to go on hike with you. Most people will be happy to have new hiking buddies. If you don’t know any hikers, many cities and towns have hiking clubs that regularly plan outings.
You can find hiking classes, outings, and events through Meetup.com, REI Outdoor School (if you’re in the United States), and Mountain Equipment Co-op (if you’re in Canada). Facebook groups can also be great for finding hiking buddies. Just type in hiking + the city you are in, and see what comes up. While I am a big fan of hiking solo, if it’s your first time I recommend going with someone to start as you may feel intimidated or lonely.
After you’ve found a hiking buddy, it’s time to pick a trail. Word of mouth is the easiest way to do this, otherwise, you can check out blogs and guidebooks to find hiking trails in an area. Alltrails is another great resource for finding hiking trails near you. They also have an app which I love because you can download the trail routes on your phone. Due to the current pandemic, I recommend picking a trail close to where you live so you are not putting a strain on the resources of other communities.
When picking a hiking trail, it’s important to consider how much time you have, the distance, and your fitness level. I hike about 3km an hour, but this depends on the trail. The steeper and more challenging the terrain, the longer it’s going to take. For your first hike, I’d recommend going with a shorter distance on a relatively well-paved trail, so you can get a sense of what you’re capable of.
Before hitting the trail, it’s important to make sure you have the right equipment. Hiking is great because it requires little investment in expensive equipment before getting started. I recommend a good pair of hiking shoes or boots (I love merrells), and comfortable clothing suitable to the climate you are in. If it’s a cold climate, merino wool layers are great. If it’s warmer, try a sweat-resistant t-shirt and hiking pants or shorts. Leggings also work well for hiking, which is what I usually wear.
You’ll want to take a comfortable day pack with the ten essentials, including water and snacks. Your water intake will depend on the level of activity, but a half liter per hour of moderate activity is a good place to start. Bring more snacks then you think you need – as mentioned before, hiking burns up to 500 calories an hour, so you’ll want to compensate this by eating 200-300 calories per hour. This is one of my favorite parts about hiking – getting to do so much justified snacking! There are all kinds of high-calorie hiking snacks out there; I’m a big fan of cliff bars.
I hope this post could inspire you to get out on the trails if you haven’t been already. Hiking has always been an important part of my life and this year has shown me that more than ever. If you have any questions about hiking, let me know in the comments below!
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