Authored by Monica Gray
5 Reasons Hiking is the Best Form of Exercise
We can all agree, to a certain extent, being a couch potato sounds more appealing than going to the gym. Why lift weights when you can lift the remote and watch Netflix? Even though the couch may beckon us every Sunday morning, we have good news for you. The gym isn’t the only place to exercise. If your goal is to burn calories and tone your muscles, then you can get the same workout by going on a hike. Hiking is one of the best alternatives to hitting the gym and getting your steps in, and it doubles as a social outing or solo meditative adventure.
It’s a fantastic way to see parts of the world only accessible by walking. These sights are ones most people never get to see in their entire life, as you traipse through a slice of the world saved only for the most adventurous.
Whenever I spend hours walking through the woods, it feels like I hit a reset button. Removing myself from the chaos of traffic and crowds of people does wonders for my mind. That, paired with an easy way to burn calories and build muscle, surpasses any other form of exercise out there. I’ve dabbled in adventurous activities like surfing and rock climbing, but nothing beats the feeling of hiking to a mountain summit, breathing fresh air, and seeing the world from a birds-eye view, all thanks to my own two legs.
Benefits of Hiking
It combines a cardio workout with muscle-building exercise. With the inclines and declines in hills, you’re working various groups of muscles all at once that a simple day at the gym wouldn’t hit. When you work out at the gym, you target one muscle group at a time. Hiking targets many different muscles and works them out for a longer period. It’s also better for your joints and knees than running, as hiking is less impactful and stressful than the high-intensity sport of running.
According to a study carried out by the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, researchers found that the “benefits (of hiking) may be immediate, such as decreased blood pressure, decreased stress levels, enhanced immune system functioning, and restored attention, or transpire over time, such as weight loss, decreased depression, and overall wellness.” This sounds like the remedy to all our societal problems. Hiking is accessible, and there are thousands of hikes out there for every fitness level. You don’t need to own expensive equipment, a membership, or be in incredible shape to enjoy a hike!
Our ancestors were onto something, and it’s said they walked up to 12 miles per day looking for food and shelter. Compare this to many Americans' sedentary lifestyles; it becomes a recipe for disaster. Incorporating a weekly hike into your schedule will do wonders for your physical body and mental health. Reap the benefits of hiking amongst the trees and exploring parts of the world many people will never see.
It’s a Full Body Workout
Climbing inclines and declines are much like combining the Stair-master and lunges, over and over again, without having to feel like you’re doing monotonous reps. I always find myself daydreaming about mountains and forests when I’m on the Stair-master, and it’s become quite clear that I’d rather be elsewhere.
These gym exercises strengthen your hamstrings, quads, and glutes, but when you’re hiking, you don't even have to think about the workout. And if you thought a hike had to be all uphill to reap the benefits, think again. Walking downhill strengthens your quads and glutes, with a combination of stability and balance, like lowering a weight at the gym. Body weight is one of the best ways to get fit, so simply walking downhill while hiking is doing a lot more for your body than you probably think. On the trail, you’ll burn 400-800 calories per hour. There’s a wide range depending on the amount of weight you’re carrying on your back. Walking with your tent and food will certainly burn more calories than walking with a day pack.
It’s One of the Greatest Ways to Bond
Instead of heading to a bar and carrying a conversation that competes against loud music, try going on a hike instead. We promise you’ll get a lot more out of a hike than sitting at a bar! The conversations in nature and quality time spent with another person out on the trail beats a night out, and it’s a lot easier to deal with sore legs the next day than a horrible hangover.
The social aspect of hiking is much more fulfilling, and the conversations are likely to be deeper and more memorable. Not only that, but the unique memories you make while trying to wad across a waist-deep river or jump over a large tree trunk are incomparable. My friends and I still talk about our wild hiking adventures for months and years afterward. We rarely reminisce about nights out, unless something substantial happened. Embrace the exotic side of yourself with a friend and explore parts of the world few people get to see. Besides, the bars aren’t going anywhere!
Quality time on the trail comes in a variety of ways, whether that’s through setting up your tent, walking along incredible terrain, or trudging through a rainstorm. You’ll likely meet other people on the trail who might become close friends. There’s no better way to meet people and make friends than by doing something you love.
With Every Step, You’re Closer to a Six Pack & Balanced Body
You’ll likely carry a backpack while hiking. You can thank your back muscles, which have to work extra hard to keep your body upright and balanced, for helping strengthen your core. Ab reps at the gym become a tedious task after a while, but walking with your backpack never gets old. You don’t even feel like you’re working out, since your only task for the day is to walk! The best way to get that summer body is to make time for weekly hikes, and by the time summer comes around, you’ll thank yourself.
Hiking requires you to move in more ways than one. Instead of walking forward, like walking on a treadmill, hiking requires you to bend over, leap over branches, wad through rivers, walk up inclines, and duck under trees. All this strengthens muscles and helps your body work muscles it normally wouldn’t use, which all helps lead to a more balanced body. Balance also helps prevent rolled ankles and knee or foot injuries while out on the trail.
Hiking with sandals that have good traction also helps keep your body balanced. To avoid slipping and injuring yourself, traction helps keep you upright on even the most slippery surfaces. Traction and balance are the keys to a successful, enjoyable, disaster-free hike.Hiking sandals help provide good balance and traction across muddy, wet terrain. The best sandals will keep your body balanced and upright, without sacrificing quality or comfort.
It Improves Your Sleep Quality
Have you ever felt so exhausted after a hike, that you fell into a deep, blissful sleep? Because your body is working all day and burning calories, you’re using up your energy sources that only a deep slumber can restore.
Current Biology published a study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder on post-hike sleep. They measured the subject’s sleep cycles before and after a hiking and camping trip. After subjects were exposed to only natural light, as opposed to light emitted from electronics, their melatonin levels increased. This shifted their internal clocks, putting them to sleep at an earlier time. Light affects our circadian rhythm, which is why spending time outdoors positively affects our sleep cycle. The night after a long hike, plus camping in the great outdoors, sets up ideal sleeping conditions.
It’s Good for Mental Health
Connecting with nature while hiking helps clear the mind, reduces stress, and leads to a feeling of peace. Unlike grabbing weights between a bunch of sweaty bodies at an indoor gym, hiking gives you space, openness, and fresh air.
According to psychologists, spending at least ten minutes in nature, every day helps reduce anxiety and depression. According to a study carried out by Stanford University, spending time in the great outdoors for at least 90 minutes can positively affect your brain. They call this the “mental health prescription,” which helps reduce your risk of depression. People who walked for 90 minutes in a natural setting, as opposed to a highly trafficked urban setting, showed decreased activity in an area of the brain associated with depression.
Why Hiking is the Best
Nature is free, and its services are available to anyone who seeks its healing effects. Even without a car, many trails and hikes are accessible by trains or buses. It’s always worth the effort it takes to get to a trailhead. The effects on the brain and body are astronomical, and before you know it, you may find how addictive hiking can be. Your hiking sandals will become your best friend, and you may find you’re wearing them more often than not.