Inactivity among individuals can lead to harmful side effects including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, congenital heart disease, obesity, diabetes, certain types of cancers, and mental health issues. People cite having no time with busy circumstances in their lives and some feel exercise is just too demanding and such hard work because they’re logging in too much time at a gym or on the treadmill at home.

No one is taking into consideration that there is a much nicer way to get in a workout without it really feeling like work and still gain all of the wonderful mind, body, and soul benefits that you would from hardcore exercise. Go for Hiking.

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What Is Hiking?

Hiking is more than simply taking a walk. With hiking, you are seeking out a trail on which you will be at peace with nature surrounding you for a much longer period of time than you would be with a simple walk. It could be a flat stable trail or up a mountain, or just slight intermittent inclines along the way.  You get to decide your path.  It’s both mentally and physically stimulating and empowering being outside with nature and being able to choose where and how you want to get your exercise in each day.

What Do I Need to Start Involved with Hiking

If you are a beginner and wish to start your journey as a hiker to be able to reap the fantastic health benefits, you need to be sure that you are mentally and physically prepared to begin hiking in order to keep yourself safe from danger.

Guidebook

Always make sure that you have a guidebook pertaining to the natural hiking trails that are in your area. These give you pertinent information as to the type of vegetation you will come across, the wildlife you may encounter, information about the trails themselves and what you will experience at different times of the years.

Small

You want to begin with a trail that is fairly simple and straightforward if this is your first time out. Just test the waters with your gear and see how your body handles all of it.  A flat trail for maybe a mile or two may be a good place for someone who is coming out from a place of no activity.

Water

Your body will dehydrate quickly. You will need to bring a lot of water to drink intermittently to rehydrate yourself as you go along the trail. Always bring even more than you think you’ll need. It’s better than not having enough. And if the trail will be especially hot or may be require much more endurance, bring more water.

Backpack

It may require some lugging along the path but its important to bring essentials for your health including a snack that will energize you, a knife along the lines of a Swiss Army knife, flashlight, compass, matches or a lighter, light snacks, extra layer of clothes for change in weather, first-aid kit. You will also want to protect yourself as much as possible from the hot sun with sunscreen, a hat, as well as sunglasses. Going on regular hikes and being exposed to the sun rays can bring you risk of sun poisoning or even skin cancer.

Shoes

The best shoes to wear for the health of your feet are hiking boots or else trail shoes. These types of shoes, or any laced shoe which will offer good arch support, are perfect when you’re trying to work your way around on rough terrain. Break your shoes in before you go out.  New shoes will make your feet sore and cause horrible blistering.  You also want to put your socks over top your pants to avoid tick bites.

Buddies

This is the perfect social activity. No phones, no technology, just friends and nature interacting.  It’s always a good idea to try to go out on a hike in a group of two or more people if it’s possible. You can have difficulty trying to get help brought to you if you’re alone and anything were to happen. If it’s a first-time hike, going with a seasoned hiker is beneficial as they can teach you the ropes and you can pick up some tips and tricks.  If you do have to go by yourself, it is imperative that you let someone know where exactly you’re going and when they can expect you to return.  They should also expect that you will call them upon your return and you should be prompt in doing so.

Trailhead

Make sure to begin your hike at the trailhead which is marked by a sign with the name of the trail and how far it is to the end of the trail. Always follow the trail signs as you go along your path. Don’t get off track. There are times you may come to a fork in the trail, if there’s no marker, look for cairns which are stacks of rocks rangers use to help hikers find the correct way.

‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’

This is a longstanding quote when you’re going to be out in nature’s habitat, being respectful and leave it as you found it. Don’t take things out, don’t leave things behind that don’t belong there, don’t be loud and belligerent, and don’t feed the animals. That’s a big one folks just can’t seem to listen to but its very important for the animals that everyone listen.

Now it’s understood that there is actually a form of exercise out there that can get us out of the house, off of the couch, away from the buzz of the digital world and we know how to do it in a healthy way for our body as well as in a way to protect our safety.  But how will going hiking actually benefit your mind, body, and soul?  Let’s see if we can break it down a little bit.

Mental Health Benefits from Hiking

There are a lot more instances of folks suffering from mental health disorders including depression and anxiety over the years. A simple fact is stressors have increased significantly with each passing year adding to this number and with the depression and anxiety comes illness.

“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

It seems technology is a big reason for a lot of the added stress and the screens shining at night from the mobile devices or the computer monitors are giving more people insomnia on top of it all. A lot of these individuals are finding the need to rely on heavy medications to help them with their symptoms. But there are studies that show that the smell of fresh air combined with feeling the sun on your skin can dramatically improve the state of your mind.

Hiking offers two ways to decrease our stress hormones:

Endorphins

Exercise fills our body with endorphins which are “good feels” that automatically lift our spirits and make us feel rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.

Serotonin

Being in the sun, in nature and, again, exercise will increase serotonin in your brain which is the chemical that is responsible for our feelings of happiness.

Hiking out in nature brings your brain and you physically the ability to be able to regulate your mental health. This is also seen with rumination.

Rumination

The ruminative process is when someone focuses repetitively in their brain on the same negative thoughts over again. Hiking is known to fight this process taking the person out of their negative thinking process and placing them in nature where their ideas are replaced with positive thoughts putting a stop to the impending depression.

There have been many scientific studies performed with nature versus mental health where they try to see what connections there may be between psychological well-being and being exposed to the natural elements.

Specifically, Stanford University has spent years researching what effects hiking in particular has on the human psyche(source) and they have concluded that time that is spent outside in nature has a measurable positive impact on the human mental health and may even possibly be able to diminish depression and anxiety’s destructive effects. It doesn’t even have to be an hour’s long journey through the woods. It can be just a small stroll through an area of nature of any kind. Parts of the brain should go through a relaxing effect. Even though you’re moving and exercising, the fact that your in a natural element brings peace and calm to an otherwise busy, over thinking mind.

Still other researchers coming from the University of London did a study showing the effects brought to people who were exposed to nature in a four-day time period with absolutely no technology among them to see how they would do with each other. The results were incredible showing that they developed a much higher functioning cognitive level. They had improved abilities in both problem solving as well as creativity. The people who went through the experience also found that they came out of the experiment with a sense of closeness with each other.

Being in nature on hikes away from the technology forced actual interaction and bonding through exercise. Overall, being together in a ‘roughing it’ kind of situation taught them to use their critical thinking skills instead of using Google. If the world had to go back to this natural way of living, we would all be much happier and the stresses and pressures that lead to illnesses such as depression and anxiety would decrease. The young people today need to put all their gadgets away and go for a nice hike in a state park. The release they would experience would be phenomenal.

Physical Health Benefits from Hiking

Being so instrumental in the relaxation of the brain and aiding in certain aspects of depression and anxiety. Hiking as a form of exercise has many physical benefits for the body as well.  Just as inactivity can cause disease, regular activity such as hiking can prevent chronic disease, prevent premature death, and improve health as well as the overall quality of a person’s life.

It doesn’t take strenuous amounts of hiking. This isn’t something you have to obsess over and put yourself through grueling bouts of. This is something that is to be enjoyed and done at your own pace. The great thing about hiking is you get to decide. You’re the coach or the trainer. You say where you go for the workout. You can pick any trail with any level of difficulty for your body’s endurance level whether it be flat or mountainous or just some hills. You get to set how far you go, if you want just a light stroll one day or several miles. It’s all your call as to how much you want to do for your body. No matter what you do, your body will benefit from the activity that it is getting. Cardiovascular activity such as hiking is some of the best exercise that you can provide for your health. If you do it alongside someone else, it will be something that you enjoy even more.  Check out what hiking will do to improve your physical health.

Fitness

Our overall fitness will be increased greatly. Depending on the level of the inclines that you cross and the amount of weight that you have to lug in your backpack will determine how many calories that you burn and the amount of body fat that is lost.  This leads to greater weight loss. Walking on trails when hiking has less impact on your joints than that of a treadmill or hard asphalt and concrete.  It’s also much better on your ankles and knees than jogging or running would be. It is said that maneuvering into the hills is good for weight loss as altitudes are a weight loss friend. Hiking gives you awesome control for a manageable weight control program.

Bone density

Because hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, it will improve your bone density which will help with osteoarthritis as well as osteoporosis. This is especially important as we age. Hiking is not something reserved for a certain generation. It can be enjoyed by folks of any age and be very beneficial to the health for every age group. It’s low impact as the trails are easy on the joints and you are able to go at your own level.

Lower blood pressure and cholesterol

If you hike the trails on a fairly regular basis, you will keep your blood pressure and cholesterol regulated which will in turn decrease your risk for heart disease as well as diabetes and chances for stroke for anyone who may be at a high risk. It is noted that hiking downhill is twice as helpful in lowering your blood sugar and helping glucose levels. Cardiovascular exercise gets the heart pumping and keeps it healthy and happy.

Healing effects

Hiking is said to be much more beneficial than just that of cardiovascular health.  There is research that indicates that it may even possibly aid in cancer patient’s recovery. International Journal of Sports Medicine published a study that found long distance hikes could improve antioxidant capacity that fights off disease within the blood of oncology patients with their health.

Diabetes

Hiking is said to control and prevent diabetes. Regular hikes will help your body by lowering your level of blood sugar. It gives your muscles a good workout which in turn will move the glucose from the bloodstream for energy.

Workout

Hiking is a natural workout getting you out in nature away from the confines of a gym or the city where you’re surrounded by buildings and traffic and noise. It allows you to clear your mind and spirit from the stresses of the day and get away from the pressure of your regular work load. You can leave technology behind and allow yourself time for you and the calming, peaceful sounds of nature. This is good for your body, mind and soul.

Tone

Hiking is a really good workout for the lower half of your body; legs, glutes, quads, thighs, calves especially when you include inclines or mountainous areas.  It can also be good for your upper body if you are carrying a heavy pack. That will benefit your back, shoulders, arms, biceps, triceps.  Your core is also greatly strengthened while hiking through the rough terrain and your balance is sharpened.

Social

Hiking can be the perfect opportunity to bond with friends or even family when you don’t have opportunities any other time during the day. You have one-on-one time to just interact with no disturbances, no phones, just them and you. It’s a way to bring you closer. In this world as it is now there aren’t opportunities for people to have alone time. Most people have their heads down looking at their phones. Hiking forces you to spend time in nature with each other and nothing else.

Making more friends

Cognitive

Hiking improves your cognitive skills. While you are out on the trail if you run into any kind of an issue, there’s generally not anyone there who can help you.  It’s up to you to problem solve and figure out a way to fix the issue. That requires critical thinking and creativity. In studies done with groups of people, it was shown that hiking in nature improves these cognitive abilities greatly and the people worked together to find solutions to issues that arose. Hiking sharpens your thinking skills and allows you to be better prepared to self-help for emergencies that crop up when you don’t have a means to just call for assistance.  This helps in everyday situations making you less codependent on others and assists you in your cognitive abilities at work and other matters.

Stronger

Hiking makes you stronger overall, increases your flexibility, and coordination.  When you exercise it increases your endorphins which makes you feel good.  This increases confidence and energy levels as well as good mood. The body becomes strong and flexible and coordination and balance are in tune keeping you from being a fall risk or having increased likelihood for broken bones or accidents from happening. With the endorphins you feel like you can accomplish anything and this show in your work and everyday life.  Hiking keeps you motivated and ready to take on the stresses that are happening in your everyday life where when you were inactive, the stresses were dragging you into a life of depression.

Conclusion

Hiking is the ultimate exercise in that it gets you outside and away from the hectic world that we’re all so consumed with. Technology has us inactive and sedentary which is damaging our health and causing the obesity level to skyrocket. Folks that increase their outings on the hiking trails, they are taking back control of their health and saying that they’re not happy with the way the health patterns are taking shape especially with our children.

Kids need to get out on these trails and get excited about it. Go in groups and see how much fun they can have socializing with friends without the need of social media or cell phones for that matter.  They need to learn how to get out there and learn methods to problem solving and be creative without any outside influences using creativity and critical thinking skills.

Hiking is critical for our health both mental and physical. The gyms can’t do what hiking can do. Gyms are mindless turnstiles. Folks needs the stimulation of interacting with nature and the smells that go along with that, the feels that go along with that, the happiness that goes along with that.  Hiking gives you so much more than just exercise can give to you. Hiking is a whole other experience.  Hiking will improve you from within, inside out. It will transform you completely; body, mind, and soul.

References

https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/blog/health-benefits-hiking

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/health-benefits-of-hiking-raise-your-heart-rate-and-your-mood-2016092810414

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