Hiking is one of my favorite ways to spend free time. Nothing beats trekking your way through nature on a sunny day and breathing fresh air. In addition to being an enjoyable activity, there are also some amazing science backed physical and mental health benefits that you get from hiking regularly.
1. Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
A number of studies have shown that any form of regular exercise, from running to walking can help lower your risk of developing heart disease. The heart is like a muscle and regular exercise such as hiking, can help strength the heart so your body can pump blood more efficiently.
2. Can Help Lower Blood Pressure
Hiking can be a great form of cardio. Cardio has a number of benefits, one of which is that it can help lower your blood pressure. WebMD recommends moderate activity like brisk walking at least 5 days a week. A hiking session can easily help you reach your body’s required activity level which keeps your heart, lungs, and circulation healthy.
3. Boosts Bone Density
Hiking is an aerobic exercise and aerobic exercise can help boost bone density. One study examined 29 previously sedentary women doing aerobic activity 3 times a week for 6 months. The study found that these women had significant increase in hip, lumbar, and leg bone density. Hiking is an aerobic weight bearing exercise that when done regularly is likely to result in similar beneficial improvements in bone density.
4. Strengthens Legs
Hiking can help strengthen your legs. Many hikes involve climbing a hill or mountain which can activate your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Surprisingly it is actually hiking downhill that can lead to the most improvement in leg strength. Hiking downhill causes an eccentric contraction of the leg muscles which is great for strength improvement.
5. Strengthens Abs
Hiking on uneven ground uphill or downhill can be a great way to strengthen your core. Your abs will be activated to help you keep an upright posture, especially when carrying a load on your back. Your core supports your whole body during movement. This is one of the reasons why ab workouts are so highly recommended for mountain athletes.
6. Improves Balance
Hiking often times involves trekking your way through tricky terrain. Uneven ground, log bridges, and other tricky surfaces can help you increase your coordination and balance. Not to mention the leg and ab strengthening benefits we covered earlier can also contribute to improving your stability.
7. Improves Cardio
Hiking is a great form of cardio. Even at a relaxed pace hiking can be considered a moderate exercise which gives your lungs, heart, and blood vessels a workout. If you really want to up the cardio benefits try going at a faster pace during your hike. You could also hike in more difficult terrain such as going up a steep hill or mountain.
8. Can Help You Lose Weight
Hiking can burn a lot of calories which can help you reach your weight loss goals. A 30 minute hiking session can cause you to burn about 200 calories according to Harvard Health. If you want to burn more calories, hike in terrain with steeper inclines and more difficult terrain. Hiking can be a great to break the monotonous if your workout routine and stay motivated towards reaching your weight loss goals.
9. Lowers Risk for Certain Types of Cancer
According to the The American Cancer Society even moderate activity such as walking provides people with amazing health benefits. Multiple studies have been done that show that walking can lower your risk for breast cancer and colon cancer. Regularly hiking is a great way to incorporate enjoyable exercise activity into your routine.
The American Cancer Society recommends: “adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (equal to a brisk walk, at a pace of 3 miles per hour) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (makes your heartbeat and breathing faster, and makes you sweat) each week, preferably spread throughout the week.”
Hiking is a fun way to help reach this recommended activity level.
10. Can Help with Osteoporosis and Arthritis
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, high-impact weight bearing exercises like hiking can help build bones and keep them strong. This can lower the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Hiking can also help with arthritis. Adam Rivadeneyra, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Orange, California, says that: “Hiking is great for arthritis because it keeps the joints mobile and the surrounding muscles strong.”
11. Improves the Quality of Sleep
Exercise such as hiking can improve your quality of sleep. When you hike you are lowering your body’s response to stress which can help you feel relaxed and sleep easier. Another way physical activity such as hiking helps you sleep is by lowering your body temperature. When you hike your body temperatures raises which helps it drop lower at night. When your body cools down at night it can help you sleep.
12. Increases Flexibility
Moving your body around can improve your flexibility. Walking outdoors or up hills involves using your legs, arms, and core which aid your overall flexibility. You can also help stretch your hip flexors by taking long strides when hiking. Uphill terrain also helps stretch your calf muscles. Generally, the more varied the terrain you are hiking in, the fuller range of motion you will be using in your muscles and joints, which can improve overall flexibility.
13. Can Help Heal Your Body
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that long distance hikes can increase the antioxidative capacity of cancer patients. This study highlights some of the many benefits that regular exercising such a hiking can have for a person’s health.
14. Relieves Stress
Hiking can be a fantastic way to relieve stress. Not only does the exercise aspect of hiking help with stress, but also the natural scenes and tranquil environment that nature presents can be a great stress reliever. A study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine found that study participants who walked in a forest had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those participants who walked in a city environment. This shows how getting out of the hustle and bustle of the city and going on a hike can be a powerful way to clear the mind and get stress relief.
15. Helps Reduce Anxiety
Stress is a major contributing factor to anxiety, and as we’ve covered earlier, hiking is a powerful way to reduce stress. The stress relief provided by the exercise and natural settings one experiences during hiking can be a great way to quiet anxiety.
16. Helps Reduce Depression
In addition to helping reduce anxiety, hiking can also help with depression. A study from Standford found that participants who walked for 90 minutes in a nature setting self reported reduced rumination and showed decreases in neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. Rumination is associated with a heightened risk for depression, so this study illustrates one of the mechanisms through which hiking may lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms.
17. Can Make You More Creative
One of the more surprising benefits of hiking in nature is that it can make you more creative. One study examined participants on a four day disconnection for multi-media and technology while hiking in nature and found a 50% performance increase on a creativity problem solving task. Another study by Stanford Researchers showed that participants were more creative while walking than those who were sitting. These studies highlight how hiking in nature can help get your creative juices flowing.
18. Increases Happiness
Hiking can increase your mental well-being. A study published in Ecopsychology (a journal that publishes studies on mental health in an ecological context) investigated the mental, emotional and social well-being of individuals who did group nature walks compared to participants who did not attend group nature walks. The study found that those who did group walks in nature showed less depression, perceived stress, negative affect and had enhanced positive affect and mental-well being.
19. Can Help Reduce ADHD Symptoms
We’ve already covered how hiking can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, but hiking may also be beneficial for reducing ADHD symptoms. One study found that children who regularly conducted activities in green outdoor settings showed a reduction in ADHD symptoms.
20. Boosts Brain
We’ve already covered how hiking can help to relieve stress and increase creativity, but hiking can also benefit the brain in other ways. Regular exercise has been shown to improve memory and thinking skills. Research has shown that hiking is one form of exercise that people feel more positive about, suggesting that it would be easier for a person to stick to regular hiking over other forms of exercise. One study showed that participants who mountain hiked for three hours had a higher positive affect and lower negative affect scores compared to groups who were sedentary or walked on an indoor treadmill.
21. Can Strengthen Relationships With Others
Hiking can be a great way to strengthen your bond with family, friends, or your significant other. Hiking a trail together can enhance closeness and be a fun way to spend time with the ones you love. It’s a healthy and enjoyable activity the whole family can enjoy.
22. Leads To a Better Quality of Life
If you made it this far in the list you have learned that hiking is a great form of exercise that offers a variety of health benefits that can boost your physical and mental well-being. The benefits of regularly hiking are so astounding that doctors are even beginning to prescribe it for chronic health issues.
Hiking is Fun
Now that you’ve learned the many wonderful benefits of hiking it’s important to remember hiking is fun! All of the health benefits come as a bonus. Now get out and enjoy the outdoors. We hope you enjoyed the list!