Picture this: a fun activity that you can do alone, or in a group, that boosts your mood, forges stronger bonds with loved ones, builds muscle, bone density and is a great cardio workout.
Does it feel too good to be true? Because it isn’t and as you may have already guessed from the title of this article, we are talking about hiking! Aside from being a great way to get exercise and spend time outdoors, hiking boasts many other positive attributes.
Hiking is not only a great low impact cardio workout, it can also help improve your blood sugar levels, as well as your blood pressure. This in turn significantly helps your heart health, since lowering your blood pressure can help prevent heart disease. It is also a great way to build muscle, particularly your glutes, hamstrings and quads – as well as strengthen your core muscles. All of that just from walking in nature! Hiking is also considered a weight bearing exercise, which helps build up bone density – something that is of particular concern to post-menupausal women. Going on regular hikes is a really great way to manage weight and an excellent addition to your current exercise regime.
This may be hard to believe, but studies have actually shown that hiking helps improve your memory. According to a study from the University of British Columbia, aerobic exercises (e.g. exercises that increase your heart rate) can increase the size of the hippocampus – which is the part of the brain that is involved with verbal memory. Hiking has also shown to reduce anxiety and stress. The act of temporarily shutting yourself off from the world and enjoying time in nature can have almost a meditative effect. Your mind can slow down and you can disconnect from the everyday stresses and expectations in life. While you’re at it, you could also take a break in a quiet spot and actually meditate in nature.
Hiking can make us happier. Researchers have determined that going for a hike can shut down “rumination” aka negative thought processes that repeat themselves. It’s quite easy to get stuck in those negative thought patterns and hiking can help give us all the reprieve that we desperately need. Hiking with friends and family can also strengthen your bonds with them, as well as help you reconnect with nature. One study actually demonstrated that mothers and daughters who walked together in an arboretum for 20 minutes had enhanced exchanges with one another. Hiking may also improve relationships by making us more empathetic while being in nature.
Things to consider before going on a hike
Research the trails near you and find a buddy to hike with, especially if you aren’t familiar with the area. Many national parks offer free guided hikes which can be an excellent introduction to the trail and hiking in general if you are just starting out. Research local recommendations, for example, some areas could have a high tick population and could require hikers to wear long pants, even in summer months. Wear hiking boots or good running shoes and bring plenty of water and snacks. If you’re hiking in the winter and going from an urban area to a more rural area, keep in mind that there will likely be more snow on the trails – so dress accordingly.
Now all that’s left to do is – take a hike!