Hiking is one of the easiest and most popular ways of exercising in the world. Anyone can do it and everyone should do it because it is just that good for you!
Hiking has numerous benefits for you, from reducing risk of a heart attack to helping you sleep better at night. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – in this detailed guide to the benefits of hiking, we’ll take a more detailed look in all the ways it is good for your body, mind and just general well-being.
From improving your balance to increasing your confidence and self-esteem – here are the top ten benefits of hiking!
Just like any other form of exercise, hiking can be a great way to lose weight and get in shape. It gets your heart rate up, which in turn burns calories and helps you shed weight. You’re also building muscles in your legs and behind, and it can really help you tighten up your body and define it.
Also, wearing a backpack while hiking can increase the rate at which you burn calories and help with weight loss even more. That extra weight is great for burning calories faster, and if you’ve adjusted the backpack properly, it won’t make you uncomfortable.
On the other hand, hiking for several hours will make you very hungry and thirsty. If you’re doing it just to lose weight, it will be crucial to follow up an exhausting hike with a healthy meal.
The average person will burn about 350-500 calories during an hour of hiking, although the exact numbers will heavily depend on your weight and physical fitness. If you spend three hours hiking and then head to McDonalds afterwards, you’re pretty much just putting back all the calories you’ve burnt. Plus, complex carbs will only keep you full for a couple hours and you’ll feel hungry sooner rather than later again.
Try and follow up your hikes with some proteins, healthy fats and carbs and I promise you will feel much better.
Hiking is really good for your mental health for several reasons. For one thing, any form of regular exercise helps regulate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which will instantly put you in a better mood. Even short bursts of exercises can help with hormone regulation and just improve your mood in general.
There’s also the sense of accomplishment you feel upon reaching the end of a hiking trail, which will definitely make you feel better about yourself. And of course, let’s not forget about sunshine and vitamin D! This can be especially helpful for people who struggle with seasonal depression and just lack the will to go outside at all.
Apart from regulating your hormones, exercise can also make you more mentally stable, especially if you’re doing it at regular intervals. Say you go on a hike every Saturday – forming such a routine can be good for your mental health, and you will have something to look forward to every week. You’ll be motivated to finish all your other obligations on time, so you can really enjoy the time you’ve allotted yourself for the hike.
Jogging, brisk walking and even climbing the stairs are all great exercises for improving the health of your bones. Hiking is perhaps the best combination of all of those, and thus is a a great way to improve bone density and strengthen your bones.
Hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, and doing it regularly will really help strengthen your bones. Especially if you’re walking uphill with a heavy – but properly adjusted – backpack on your back. This strengthens bone tissue and can even reduce the negative effects of osteoporosis.
By increasing bone density, your bones will become tougher and harder to break. This will also make you stronger eventually, allowing you to bear more weight, or in other words carry more stuff.
But the important thing to note here is that weight bearing exercises only help bone health when they are done in moderate to high levels. So, next time you have a choice between an uphill hike and a trek across flat terrain, go for the hills to strengthen your bones!
Social media is one of the greatest perils to your mental health. Most of us have a hard time limiting the time we spend on social media – if you’re up at night scrolling through Reddit or Instagram when you’re supposed to be sleeping, you’re definitely guilty of this. The main problem is that we often end up comparing ourselves to perfectly posed and photoshopped images, and that is detrimental to mental wellbeing.
Hiking means you’re out in the nature as opposed to endlessly scrolling your social media feeds. Studies have shown that spending less time on social media can help with depression and is overall good for mental health, so that’s a huge bonus. If you struggle to control how much time you’re spending on your Instagram feed, it’s not a bad idea to just leave the house and spend some time off the grid.
Obviously that means putting your phone away for the majority of your hike, except for maybe taking some photos and checking the map. If you’re Snapchatting all the time during your hike, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of going off the grid to improve your mental health.
If you struggle with insomnia, it’s worth it to try hiking. It can help in a couple different ways, and it’s always better to try natural remedies first, before you turn to pharmaceuticals.
So, the obvious benefit of hiking is that you’ll be exhausted when you get home and you will fall asleep like a baby. Nothing will put you to sleep like a tired body, but unfortunately that’s just a short term benefit of hiking.
The long term benefit is that it can help decompress your mind and relieve stress. If you can’t sleep because you’re up at 3AM cringing because of something you did six years ago, you really need to try hiking more often. There are only theories so far as to why hiking helps with sleep and one of those theories is that exposure to sunlight earlier in the day helps with producing melatonin at night.
Another theory is that, because you are more alert during the day, it’s easier to fall asleep at night. And hiking makes you very alert and aware of your surroundings, especially when you’re in the forest or walking along some rough terrain that requires you to watch your every step.
One benefit of hiking that we kind of take for granted is that it forces you to drink water. Especially if you’re not a very active person – you’ll be thirsty within the first ten minutes of the hike.
Drinking at least two liters of water a day has numerous benefits to your health, well-being and skin. And if you’re one of those people who forget to drink water and realize at 7PM they haven’t had a drop to drink all day, you should definitely try to form that habit with hiking.
Don’t get me wrong, going for a hike once every two weeks won’t magically turn you into someone who drinks eight glasses of water every day. But it’s a start, and a great way to ensure you’re getting enough H2O at least in those days when you’re out on the trail.
Hiking can help lower the risk of heart disease, since it is a powerful cardio workout. Even a short hike will raise your heart rate, which will help boost your metabolism and burn calories faster. If you’re dedicated to hiking, you will eventually build up your endurance, allowing you take on longer and more difficult trails every time you go hiking.
Keep in mind that hiking is a cardio exercise and therefore it has all the same benefits for cardiovascular health as other exercises. It lowers stress and blood pressure, it can help stop or at least slow down the development of diabetes and it will improve your cholesterol levels.
But like everything else in life, it’s only good for your heart in health in moderation. Don’t overdo it, otherwise you might put too much stress on your heart and body, which could have detrimental consequences.
Full disclosure, I’m one of those people who trip over straight lines because they rarely watch their step. My hiking journey has been tumultuous to say the least, filled with cuts, bruises and nasty falls. But even I have improved over time, and nowadays I’m capable of crossing kilometers of trails without slipping even once!
If balance is not your strong suit, you should definitely invest in a good pair of trekking poles. They provide you with some extra stability, and they are particularly helpful when you’re hiking uphill, downhill or crossing streams.
But it’s not just about that. Hiking will make you much more aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re walking on uneven terrain. Forest hikes are a great way of forcing yourself to watch your step since you have to watch out for rocks and roots if you want to remain on your feet.
The more you hike, the better your brain gets at noticing obstacles on the trail and coordinating your movements. With regular practice, you will be able to take on any hiking trail you want, regardless of how difficult the terrain might seem.
One important thing to note here is that footwear matters a lot. You need proper hiking shoes (or boots) that offer lots of grip and traction if you genuinely want to work on your balance issues.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in the world and there are communities based on it everywhere. If you’re feeling lonely or just want to meet new people, hiking is a great way to do it. You can sign up for group hikes and even classes, and you’ll go on an adventure with people who have at least that one thing in common with you.
If you sign up for a hiking class or want to go on a guided hike, it will be a great way to learn something. You will most likely get to hang out with people who are more experienced than you, and you might pick up a few tricks from them along the way. And not the mention how many people you will meet and the memories you’ll make while trying these new experiences.
On top of that, hiking can really help build trust and strengthen the bonds you already have with people. You won’t always be entirely sure where to go when the trail forks and you might need help from your hiking buddy to climb a few rocks in order to continue. In any case, you’ll have to trust the person you’re with, and in most cases that will just strengthen your friendship.
I’ll let you in on a little secret – hiking is just walking and anyone can do it. Even if you’re not a very active person, you can always start small – find short, beginner friendly hiking trails and start with those. Once your overall physical fitness and endurance levels improve, you’ll be able to take on some more difficult trails and in no time you’ll be going on long-distance hikes suitable only for pros.
Every single time you get to the end of a trail, you’ve managed to accomplish something. That’s great for your self-esteem and confidence, particularly if you doubted whether you’d be able to do it.
And if we’re talking about hiking trails that aren’t on really difficult terrain, in most cases you will be able to complete them easily. Just take as much time as you need, go at your own pace and don’t push yourself too much. The burn you feel in your muscles will remind you of your latest accomplishment even for a few days after the hike!
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!