When someone mentions going on a hike, you immediately think of a precarious mountain top and having to climb rocky terrain under the hot sun. Maybe even having to lug around heavy baggage - none of which sounds pleasant.
But a lot of first-time hikers don’t realize that hiking is deceptively easy and surprisingly fun. Sure, harder routes exist, but those are for people who have built up to that level - and so can you with a little prep! And don’t worry, you don’t need loads of fancy gear to get started - some good boots are enough; and if you want to do some camping, a cheap tent with suffice. Hiking offers some incredible benefits for everyone.
Physical Benefits of Hiking
Hiking is little more than walking, albeit on irregular terrain. The route you take can be through a park or wilderness, or firmly along a trail.
But walking, even on a path, has massive health benefits. Even 20-30 minutes of mild cardio activity leads to improved blood circulation, improved oxygen saturation, and improved resting heart rate.
Sure, having to climb may seem exhausting, especially if you’re not used to it. But hiking, over time, leads to directly improved cardiovascular health, because you incorporate a cardio exercise into your routine.
Having to navigate irregular terrain means that you use more muscles than, say, on a treadmill, or on a walk around your block. Engaging multiple muscles means that you get more of a full-body workout. Also, walking up inclines increases the work done by your muscles, without straining your joints the way synthetic inclines at the gym would do.
Not only is this beneficial for weight loss, but also for people who are seeking to tone muscles, improve their stamina and endurance, improve hand-eye coordination and overall reflexes, and just become fitter, all-round.
Not to mention, there is a gradual stabilization of blood pressure in people who have high blood pressure, as well as a reduction in their resting heart rate. Both of these contribute to better cardiac health.
Hiking also allows you to get more sun all year round. This means that your body can synthesize more Vitamin D, and incorporate calcium from your diet better into your system. The direct result of this is having healthier bones and joints, and reduced chances of developing osteoporosis, or fragile bones.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been directly linked to immune and mood-related irregularities, which are countered when your body can make more Vitamin D on its own. All you need is to make sure that you’re hiking around, letting your skin gobble up that sunlight!
Increased activity levels from regular hiking also help reduce your body fat percentage, and over time, also regulate your blood cholesterol levels. Improved blood circulation also means that you have improved digestion and better gut absorption than without any exercise. The benefits of hiking just keep on giving!
Mental Benefits of Hiking
Being out on hikes gives you a chance to unwind, destress, and reconnect with nature. Getting away from everyday stresses and routines allows your mind to declutter all the background chores and to-dos you have running on a constant basis.
Away from these schedules, you can close all those extra tabs in your brain and focus on the here and now - and how!
Hiking makes you focus on your immediate surroundings, which keeps your attention engaged, no matter how occupied your thoughts were before. It’s even a great way to build focus and stay centered.
Regardless of whether you’re hiking in a park, or in a little-known trail, the simple act of being out in nature allows you to feel more immersed and connected with the nature around you. Living in the city, or simply being busy with daily routines oftentimes makes you forget how relaxing the sounds of nature are. Hiking puts you right back in the middle of these.
Emotional and Social Benefits of Hiking
Not only do hikers benefit from the experience of clearing their mind while getting some exercise, but there are still more benefits to it.
Being able to de-stress reduces your overall cortisol levels, which means that you stay de-stressed as well. The ability to think and enjoy nature also goes a long way in countering anxiety and persistent low moods. Even people with depression benefit from the release of endorphins and the change of atmosphere and scenery. It has a direct uplifting effect on the mood.
Plus, you reap the benefits of hiking whether you're alone or in a group. Hiking alone allows you a chance to introspect in solitude, whether you're thinking, listening to music, or listening to audiobooks, etc.
If you’re out hiking with friends or family, you get a chance to bond with them in new territory. It builds trust and improves communication and cooperation, which does wonders for relationships. Hiking can also be a great way to catch up with old friends or simply having a bonding experience out in nature. Regardless of the setting, hiking does well to your body, mind, and soul!
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