Hiking has its pros and cons and has been shown to provide a variety of benefits, including improved emotional, mental, physical health. There are naturally some cons to it and there are other ways to achieve the same benefits, so we have a look at those too.
But let’s start with the good stuff, here are some of the practical health benefits:
It is a fantastic workout
Hiking gives an aerobic workout that is certain to up the heart rate up. Walking also helps with more than just your legs and works most muscles in your body.
By making the lifestyle more active and going on regular hikes lasting 45-60 minutes, it is possible to significantly improve the stamina and all-round well-being.
Plus, it will go a long way to help tone the muscles in your body.
Improved Mental health
According to The Lancet, exercising 3-5 times a week has been shown to promote good mental health.
On top of this, it has been shown that being outside with nature helps to clear the mind, reduce stress and anxiety and boosts the level of endorphins and adrenaline to increase energy
Hiking simply gives you the opportunity to get away from the normal stresses of everyday life and completely relax.
Hiking mountain trails isn’t the only way to benefit from this outdoor activity.
An urban hike gives the option to explore closer to home while still being able to visit places that you don’t normally go.
Walking for 30-60 minutes per day is certain to give the desired level of exercise and makes sure the all-round well-being is improved.
An occasional break from phone calls, texts, and emails can do a lot of good and help relax. Plus, being outside with the fresh air and sunlight is certain to have a positive influence on mental health.
Even after a short spell of being able to take a relaxing break, it should leave you feeling refreshed and have a new perspective on things that might not be so important.
So Hiking can definitely enhance you psychological health in many different ways.
Lowers your blood pressure and reduces your risk of heart disease
As we mentioned above, walking can help reduce your stress and anxiety levels, but it seems to help with blood pressure in other ways too.
Even a short walk first thing in the morning can have as much effect as medication for some people…but do not stop taking your medication, this is a way to assist the medication, not replace it!
“For both men and women, the magnitude of reduction in average systolic blood pressure following exercise and breaks in sitting approached what might be expected from anti-hypertensive medication in this population to reduce the risk of death from heart disease and stroke,” says Michael Wheeler at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
Their study also found that adding in further short walks during the day can increase these effects even further
Going on a regular hike that takes into account moderate terrain can lead to great health benefits. One area that is improved is the level of bad cholesterol (LDL).
An uphill hiking has the ability to lower the triglyceride levels, while a downhill hike is more effective and great for improving glucose tolerance and removing blood sugars.
Improves Bone Density
It has been shown that walking as little as three to five miles a week can help build your bone health and prevent Osteoporosis.
So just this bit of weight-bearing exercise could reduce your risk of fractures and other bone issues…
Reduces Risk of Arthritis
Exercise has been shown to reduce the threat of arthritis and can help ease arthritis pain
However if you have arthritis, you may need to ice your joints before and after hiking and potentially wear supports.
We would also suggest the use of poles to take some of the load off your leg joints
Relieve back pain
While some hikers complain about back pain from hiking, it has been shown to be beneficial for back health. The benefits for your back are two-fold.
Firstly, it improves your core strength, reducing the stress on your back. Your trunk, core, and lumbar (lower back) muscles play a vital role in maintaining the stability and movement of your lower back. These muscles get weak if they are not exercised, causing issues with your spine.
walking helps build strength in the muscles of your lower back, adding to the strength and integrity of your lower back.
Secondly, it increases the flexibility in your back. Lack of physical activity causes the muscles and joints in your lower back and hips to become stiff. This stiffness creates increased pressure on your lower back, altering its normal curvature.
When you walk, specific muscles, such as your hamstrings, erector muscles of the spine, and hip flexor muscles are activated and stretched. This improves the overall range of motion in your lower back
Slows the aging process
According to Dr. Dwight Chapin daily walking is the best anti-aging prescription.
He also suggests that doing something is better than nothing. So start with five minutes a day for the first week, adding five minutes each week until you are able to walk 30 minutes each day. If finding a 30-minute block of time in your day represents a barrier, break the activity into three 10-minute power walks.
Cons of hiking
Hiking at altitude on a mountain trail can lead to nausea, mild headache, fatigue, and lightheadedness, especially for those normally living at low altitude.
A preferred option is to adjust to the thinner atmosphere before starting the hike. Plus, the weather in certain regions can make sudden and dramatic changes. Make sure to check the weather forecast before setting off.
While enjoyable at the time, a hiking workout can leave the muscles sore and tight for 2-3 days after the event. Anyone out of shape or without the proper equipment can increase the risk of injuries from falling or slipping. Be cautious on difficult terrain to avoid unexpected accidents.
Risks in the wilds
Whether it is planned to complete a day-hike or multi-day hike it makes sense to pack for the unexpected emergency.
A hiking checklist should include a GPS, cell phone, compass, map, rain gear, sunscreen, first-aid kit, etc. Plus, a hike is best planned if it starts early in the day.
Weather can turn later in the day and an early start should help to minimize issues with rainfall and lightning.
Keep the energy up by packing the right trail food and use a hydration pack to maintain the proper fluid intake.
Safety on the trails
Walk the trails in a group or at least with a companion. Let someone at home know the intended hiking path and time expected to return.
Also, get familiar with the wildlife in the local area and wear clothes to match the conditions.
Matt Green, is an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. He is always planning his next big trip or hitting the trails for a solo hike.
He’s traveled extensively to many remote regions and has plenty of experience exploring various terrains, and stories to tell.