Living in the age of information overload drives Americans to spend 90% of all their time indoors. While spending hours behind a screen may seem perfectly normal, indoor air pollutants can cause severe headaches, respiratory disease, and irritation of the nose. (1)
Why not do your body a favor by getting up off the couch and hitting your favorite hiking trail?
Sure hikers battle blisters, sweat, exhaustion, and a general funky body odor. But here are some pretty amazing potential health benefits they experience as well.
Hikers are a well of creativityWhat do former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have in common? Both are known for their ability to conduct meetings on foot. A recent study published by the University of Stanford found that individuals significantly increased their creativity while walking compared to sitting. (2)
Getting off that couch or chair is one part of the equation. Getting outside is the other. Research shows that those who spend more time outdoors increase their creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50%. (3) So the next time you need some creative juice look no farther than that trail.
Hikers enjoy a healthy heartData from the American Heart Association tells us that cardiovascular disease in 2017 is the cause of 1 in 3 deaths in the US. That's up from approximately 25% in 2008. (3)
One brilliant way to counteract heart disease is to go on a hike. Hiking along with other physical activities helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. But how much time do you need to make a difference? The Surgeon General recommends just 2.5 hours per week.
That's moderate exercise (moderate exercise includes any exercise that is rhythmic in nature and allows you to talk while exercising) 30 minutes a day for just five days a week. Or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise such as hiking with a pack or on an incline. Do your heart a favor and hit the trail. (4)
Hikers enjoy better bone healthWho doesn’t love to soak up the sun every once in awhile. Hiking is a great way to catch those sun rays which add vitamin D to the body. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones helping the body absorb calcium which leads to greater bone density and future bone growth.
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D. Exposure to the sun through a glass window does not produce vitamin D either because the glass blocks UVB rays. Your best bet here is to get outside. Although expert opinions differ, exposing your bare skin to natural sunlight for 5-20 minutes twice a week without sunscreen is enough time for vitamin D synthesis. Hiking is an easy way to build stronger bones and meet your body’s demand for vitamin D. (5)
Hiking heals the bodyA study published by the International Journal of Sports Medicine tracked the level of oxidative stress (possibly leads to cancer) in 18 individuals with cancer before and after a long distance hike. After the hike individuals recorded higher antioxidative capacities. Antioxidants help defend the body from diseases like cancer. So find that trail to fight off disease. (6)
Hiking helps lower body weightOne of the main benefits of even a moderate hike is the amount of work your body goes through to keep you moving forward and upward. Carrying even a small pack adds to the amount of calories burned. The legs are activated as they propel the body upward, the shoulders and chest help carry the weight of a pack, and the back fights to maintain proper posture.
Hikers burn on average 100 calories per mile. Increasing the speed by ditching the pack (trail running or jogging) to just 4.5 miles per hour burns 500 calories per hour. (7) Studies also show that even increasing altitude alone may help you lose weight. (8)
Hiking offers hopeHiking helps calm the mind and reduce anxiety. (9)
A recent Scandinavian study examined 20 severely depressed individuals while they participated in endurance training via hiking. Scientists discovered that group hiking in addition to therapy significantly reduced hopelessness and depression while increasing physical endurance. (10)
Hiking is also a great alternative to other exercises that place more stress on the joints. Australian Coastrek CEO Di Westaway remembers how for the first 40 years of her life exercise was torture. Then she discovered hiking:
I started using hiking regularly as therapy. Whenever I felt like crap, I'd go for a walk. Every time I went I felt better. Sometimes I felt so crappy I couldn't motivate myself, so I got my friends together and we motivated each other, often by planning an epic adventure.
Know before you goHiking is a great outdoor activity that adds immense variety and value to a traditional 'workout routine'. But always make sure you are ready before you pack up and hit the trail.
Start with smaller hikes in your neighborhood with little to no elevation and no pack. As you progress from week to week, add distance to each hike. As you build up endurance try adding a small pack. Add elevation after you feel you have found a good walking rhythm on a flat trail with a pack.
Always be sure to pack the right gear for the weather and the duration of your trip. Bring extra food and water. Staying hydrated while hiking is crucial for peak performance.
If you are just starting out, look for a friend or family member who could possibly hike with you. As you gain experience you can venture out on your own. But always be sure to leave a trip itinerary with a family member and in your vehicle should disaster strike and you need assistance.