Are you tired of running on a treadmill without a view? Frustrated with the same routines every week in your gym or studio? Lack of variety in workouts is an oft-cited reason that people don’t stick with their fitness regimens for long periods of time. If you’re looking to get out of the repetitive workout cycle, hiking might be just the activity you need. There are so many reasons you should be getting out there and adding this activity into your workout routine.
From an hour stroll on the neighborhood towpath to days spent backpacking the wilderness, going hiking offers you something different every time. Even if you feel out of shape, chances are good that you can still start hiking with a simple route! A hike can be as easy or difficult as you need it to be, and trails near urban areas are often built for accessibility and all fitness levels.
Here are 10 of the best reasons why hiking should be a weekly part of your fit and healthy lifestyle:
- Higher likelihood of finishing your workout: The fact that you can’t go for a trek in the living room or around the block is a key reason that hiking is a great exercise option. In most cases, you will usually have to drive or travel some amount of distance to get on a trail. By putting in extra effort to start your hike, you are more likely to finish exercising than if you had simply started a home workout or hopped on the elliptical. Even if you get halfway into a hike and decide you don’t want to continue, you will still continue to exercise because you have to turn around and get back to your car. This ensures you get some exercise and encourages you to finish what you started. Don’t be afraid to start small and ease into hiking. No matter how much you do, it’s a great workout!
- Improved mental health and decreased stress: Have you ever heard the term “nature deficit disorder?” Although it is not an official condition, a majority of the Earth’s population lives in urban areas with a lack of exposure to nature and so-called “green spaces.” Researchers have long suspected that a lack of nature can significantly affect mental health. In a 2015 study by Gregory Bratman at Stanford University, participants in the study’s positive emotions increased significantly in short- and long-term measurements simply by incorporating a daily walk. In another study, Bratman and fellow colleagues measured decreased levels of rumination (negative reflection or brooding) in participants walking in green space versus those walking in urban areas. While experimenting on the effects of green spaces, researchers from Finland found that even short walks in nature decreased stress levels in participants significantly more than those walking in cities. Behavioral researchers are starting to deliver decisive proof about nature-deficit theories, with most results pointing towards the same thing: time in nature is good for your mental well-being!
- Excellent endurance training: Whether you’re hiking for 90 minutes or a week, the act of hiking is a great way to increase your aerobic endurance capacity. Your body is moving at a steady pace for a long distance, uphill and downhill, often in harsh elements. Elevation changes in hikes work your muscles both concentrically and eccentrically, providing balanced training. Depending on the altitude (distance above sea level) you are hiking at, your body’s aerobic capacity will be forced to grow due to availability of oxygen. The benefits of consistent, long-term walking/hiking on an incline are well-documented, so get out there and start reaping the benefits from pushing through a tough hike!
- Increased creativity and problem-solving ability: With the overabundance of technology and stimulation in society, it’s easy to feel as if your mind and focus are overwhelmed. Constant stimulation can decrease attention levels and make moments of isolation and non-stimulation tough to enjoy. Time spent hiking and experiencing nature can directly counteract these issues. Through preliminary experiments, David Strayer, of the University of Utah, found that participants’ ability to problem-solve creatively increased drastically after spending several days hiking in nature. While most of your hiking might not last for days, spending regular time in nature can give your brain a break from the stress of everyday life and can have provide benefits in the way you approach solving daily challenges.
- Time for socialization and companionship: Let’s face it: working out can be boring. There is no way around it, some days you can’t focus or just don’t want to do it. Hiking eases that issue by making it simple to bring along a few friends to provide some conversation as you head down the trail. Unlike weight-lifting or taking classes (where people may do different exercises or can’t talk in a room full of other people), everyone is doing the same exercise while hiking and there’s plenty of time to talk. Experiencing nature with close friends makes for strong bonding time, and a friend could be just the motivation you need to crush that last mile. Make a plan with some buddies for your next free weekend, and enjoy social time well spent while staying healthy.
- Adjustable difficulty level: This is one of the best arguments for making hiking a staple of your fit lifestyle: it’s as tough (or as relaxed) as you want it to be. There are any number of ways to adjust your hike, including picking a steeper/longer trail; hiking less-maintained trails; taking a shorter loop instead of the long one; bringing a backpack with excess water to add extra weight; or setting a time limit for completing the trail. No matter what your fitness level or goal is, you can find ways to change up your hike to match your needs. (If you don’t have access to many trails, try doing your favorite jaunt in reverse; new views, different pacing and a whole new challenge are right at your feet.)
- Train your grit and determination: Hiking can be rough. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Sometimes you do a new trail you read was moderate, but to you, it feels like you’re climbing Mt. Whitney. Other times, it rains out of nowhere or the temperature is 100° F and you have to grind through. No matter the difficulty, learning to surmount those challenges and push through tough spots is great training for fitness and for life. Fitness isn’t always fun, as great results come from great effort. Forcing yourself to look inside for the determination to finish a steep trail teaches determination and toughens you up for future challenges.
- Slim down and fight diabetes arthritis and vitamin deficiencies: If you’re looking into adding hiking into your fitness routine, know that it’s an excellent way to stay slim and help lose weight. Unlike other types of exercise, it requires almost no training to start melting off excess weight. Hiking burns an average of 200 calories per hour at a moderate pace of 2 miles per hour. Those calories burned can increase drastically with a quickened pace, trail incline or extra weight carried. Consistent exercise can decrease the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels, and the regular movement and impact on your bones from hiking can fight off onset of arthritis and osteoporosis. Also, since many people try to hike in good weather, ten minutes in the sunlight will give you almost all of your daily vitamin D requirements. (Just remember to wear sunscreen!) Whether you’re concerned about any or all of the above issues, a few hours of hiking a week is an amazing way to stay fit and well.
- Measurable achievements: Workouts that have tangible, measurable goals are an excellent way to build confidence, track your progress and continue to self-motivate. The feeling of knowing you pushed through X amount of miles in sweltering heat up and down a steep mountain, almost quitting but walking onward, is an amazing one. In the moment, a hike might have you asking why you did this to yourself, but, upon completion, you’ll most likely be filled with pride at conquering the trail and ready to get out there and do more! Write down the trails you’ve checked off and the miles you’ve covered, and watch your achievements start to pile up.
- Adventure!: This one is obvious: would you rather jog 10 miles on a rickety treadmill facing a blank wall or hike 10 miles along a narrow trail with views of an incredible mountain or city? Having a sense of adventure is something to be valued, and being outdoors can always bring you something new. Many great hiking trails are minutes away from major roads but feel as if you’re out in the wilderness due to steep cliffs or thick forests. Finding interesting wildlife, glowing lakes or nerve-wracking cliffs along a trail can be exhilarating, which increases adrenaline and may give you more energy to push further towards your fitness goals.
These are just a few reasons to get outside and get hiking. If you are struggling with finding good hikes to do, google “best hikes in” your local area. Remember, if you have pre-existing symptoms or have never hiked before, you’ll probably want to consult your doctor before easing into a hiking routine Below are five quick tips to remember for any hike:
- Always bring enough water with you. If possible, prehydrate (drink extra liquid before heading out).
- Wear sunscreen.
- Don’t get lost. This common sense can be surprisingly uncommon. You should never rely on cell service or memory with an unfamiliar trail. Find a map or someone who knows the terrain.
- Bring a buddy. Many hikers can do multi-day trips solo, but there are inherent dangers to hiking alone. If your route is challenging, dangerous or you aren’t completely comfortable with it, make sure to hike with company.
- Enjoy! Hiking is an amazing hobby, usually with beautiful views and a great sense of satisfaction. Don’t ruin that by pushing yourself too hard. If you need a break, take one. Better to make it through the hike at a slower pace than to hurt yourself or burn out.
Happy trails everyone!