Opinions vs. Facts
Do you ever wonder why hiking is supposed to be good for us or why it seems like it's an ever growing interest? Many people have begun enjoying this activity as a regular hobby. They use it as a tool helping them to combat their daily stressors.
More and more hikers have been sharing how it's changing their lives. Still remaining are the many who haven't given it a try yet. Some of those people waiting to give it a go might be looking for a good reason to. While maybe others, possibly from lack of research, think that it's just overrated. Thus, never really planning on ever taking their first hike. These are all just common opinions though and not real facts. This doesn't mean there isn't any factual evidence, because there's actually a lot of science behind why it's beneficial, and how it can positively effect you too.
Exercise and Sunshine
Let's start with the obvious reason of getting in some good old fashioned exercise and rays of sunshine. Remember that a body in motion stays in motion. This doesn’t mean you should be planning on climbing Mt. Everest if you’re just beginning.
Start at your own current athletic level. There’s trails for everyone -- there’s even apps that help you find the perfect one for you. While getting those limbs moving and heart pumping, you'll be getting lots of vitamin D too. Having more of this essential vitamin is just one way hiking will help you to reverse the negative side effects you may already be experiencing from too much time indoors.
Staying inside for extended periods of time can have some unexpected side effects like fatigue, anxiety, restlessness, hopelessness, chronic
pain, decrease in bone and muscle density, and the list goes on.
Bone & Muscle Density
Hiking also improves bone density? It certainly can! Our bones are alive and ever changing. Just like us. Hiking regularly can trigger your body to enhance itself. It does this in order to withstand the overload from pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. As humans, getting older puts us at a higher risk for osteoporosis, brittle bones, etc. Like with most things, prevention is better than trying to cure. Don't get me wrong though, hiking can still help even if you weren't able to give your body that head start and are already suffering from some of these conditions or symptoms. Vitamin D also plays a role in this enhancement.
A deficiency of D vitamins has been linked to bone pain and muscle weakness. Hit the trails and you’ll be on the road to combating chronic pain. After awhile you'll start to notice that your
comfort zone has started growing along with your bones and muscles.
Good for the Heart
Another way hiking benefits us is that it strengthens our heart and lowers our risk of cardiovascular disease. The same way our body adapts to strengthen our muscular-skeletal system, it can do the same for our heart.
If you are currently struggling with high blood pressure, taking a hike will assist you in lowering your blood pressure. It works the same for blood sugar too. Don’t experience any of these symptoms? Well, as mentioned in the first sentence of this paragraph, hiking can also be used as a preventative method. Lessening the risk of future heart related issues which may have stemmed from a sedentary lifestyle.
Stamina, Confidence, Endurance
On top of all that, it also increases your stamina and endurance. So every time you go walking, jogging, hill climbing, or whatever physical activity -- it gets a little easier. By pushing yourself just a little each time, you’ll be happily surprised how quickly your body starts catching up with your "go getter" mentality.
Starting out can be scary. But that’s all you need to do... start somewhere building up to your goals. Our bodies want to work with us. We just need to take the first step. While you’re building up your confidence and endurance you’ll be burning some extra calories. Which can assist you in accomplishing any weight loss goals you might have.
Balance & Stability
Having trouble with your balance? Hiking can improve that. Whether you’re walking on a paved path or a more rugged trail you’ll be building up your lower muscles which is a key factor in developing your overall balance. As you begin adding uneven surfaces to your routine you’ll be training your core muscles too. These two muscle groups work in synchronicity helping you keep better balance.
An additional way hiking can brush up your stability, is that it encourages your brain to develop what they call proprioception. Proprioception is important because it’s our ability to perceive space, distance, and our body’s relation to it. A greater sense of it means your brain has begun to better assess each situation. As a result you’ll automatically be able to more accurately judge where your next step should be.
If you're looking for some relief to your insomnia or trouble sleeping; it's been proven that hiking can help with that too. Lack of sleep can be caused by so many reasons. Some of which are stress, anxiety, and lack of sun.
Increasing your sun exposure just a few minutes to a few hours everyday can help your natural circadian rhythm reset and brain to release melatonin; a hormone created to help us sleep. Since anxiety can be caused or worsened by being cooped up -- going hiking can help us release some of this excess energy possibly keeping one from getting a full night’s rest. Stress is another reason that could be keeping you from sleep, but we will cover this more in the section below.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, a lot of the side effects of being indoors too long had to do with mental health. So it makes sense that hiking outdoors would have positive benefits to our mental health. A good hike is a natural stress reliever. It can be a peaceful practice and a time to let go of anything that has been weighing heavily on your mind. Focusing on how the blowing wind feels or the sun warming your skin. Listening to the sounds of nature, birds singing, leaves rustling, or even cars passing by. Noticing all the different shades and colors on your path. Smelling the fresh air provided to us by the living plants.
Living in the moment is a helpful tool for a balanced state of mind. Best part is that it’s available and free for us to use, anytime. Hiking gives us plenty of opportunities to be mindful and enjoy the beauty of each moment. Hanging out in the sunlight and around plants actually helps your body to release serotonin. Which is helpful for mental health as it is a naturally mood boosting neurotransmitter.
Last but not least -- you can strengthen relationships with loved ones. By taking in the scenery that nature has to offer together. Sharing this experience with one another can be special and while you’re enjoying the outdoors your bonds will surely grow. When you’re planning your next hiking trip consider inviting someone to come along with you. It can be someone already into hitting the trails regularly or somebody just starting out. Finding a middle ground can be easily done. Do the planning by yourself or share the experience in planning with your hiking buddy.
The key here is having fun. Having a positive attitude and savoring the present moment together will be like a breath of fresh air. You may even find yourselves discovering new interests when out on the trails! Birds, flowers, trees, and wildlife species are everywhere, but you’re even more likely to come across them when you’re taking a walk in their natural habitats. It’s possible that you’ll start becoming curious about new things you see and these interests could grow with others you’re bringing along too. There’s so many opportunities for ways to embrace your next hike.
Beneficial to all kinds of people. Hiking is definitely worth giving a try. From our heads to our toes, there’s several ways that we can gain something from it. This list is far from exhaustive and there’s many more reasons why you might want to start.
I can say from my own experience hiking has been very good for both my physical and mental health. After a long winter of mostly sitting indoors my body was starting to weaken and my stamina wasn’t very high. It’s always cool to find yourself able to go further and longer than you could originally. I’m thankful for someone to come along with me, as I think it makes it more fun and helps me push myself a little more. If I’m in any sort of mental funk, a good hike can be just what I need to help me get through it. I can also testify that I am more likely to sleep through the night on the days that I have taken an hour or two walk through our woods here.
Whatever your reason is for trying; if you do decide to go for a hike, set yourself up for success and start small. Just remember “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” – Mark Twain