How Hiking Is Good for Body and Mind
Hiking outdoors comes with a bounty of perks: nice views, fresh air, and the sounds and smells of nature. Hiking is a powerful cardio workout that boasts all the health benefits of walking, including less risk of heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer, as well as better blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Because hiking is a weight-bearing exercise -- you’re moving against gravity while staying upright -- it boosts bone density and helps combat osteoporosis (thinning bones).
Hiking is also good for muscle strength. The activity targets your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, and lower leg muscles. It works your shoulders, strengthens your core, and improves balance. And hiking can help you control your weight.
It's also a powerful mood booster. "Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety," says Gregory A. Miller, PhD, president of the American Hiking Society. "Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that."
Safe Hiking Tips
Start slow. A short, local hike is best for beginners. Gradually work up to trails with hills or uneven terrain.
Bring a buddy. It’s best not to hike alone at first, especially on unfamiliar or remote trails. A partner or group can help you navigate and assist if you get hurt. As your skill level improves, you’ll feel more comfortable going solo.
Know before you go. Familiarize yourself with the trail map. Check the weather and dress and pack accordingly. If storms are a possibility, rethink your plan.
Use common sense. Follow marked paths and trails. Avoid contact with questionable plants and animals.
Get into a groove. On the days you can’t make it to the trails, power-walk on a hilly terrain while carrying various degrees of weight in a backpack -- it will keep your hiking skills and fitness level on track.
Step Up Your Hiking Workout
You can get more out of your hiking with these fitness-boosting strategies.
Use poles. Digging into the ground and propelling yourself forward pushes your upper body muscles to work harder and gives you a stronger cardio workout.
Head for the hills. Even a small hill will intensify your heart rate and burn extra calories. The American Hiking Society’s Miller says a 5% to 10% incline equals a 30% to 40% increase in calorie burn.
Bump it up. Uneven terrain can work muscles while improving balance and stability.
Weigh yourself down. Stock your daypack with extra weight. (Water’s a good option.) According to Miller, a 10- to 15-pound daypack will boost your calorie burn by 10% to 15% while strengthening your lower back muscles.
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