What is Hiking?
Hiking, simply put, is walking on a trail, path, or route in the countryside. It encompasses various forms, each tailored to different preferences and skill levels. From the challenging off-trail experience of cross-country hiking to the stroll along well-established paths known as rambling, hiking provides options for everyone. It is a pursuit that can be undertaken solo or with a group for exercise or pleasure.
Health Benefits of Hiking
Studies show that there are many benefits of hiking.   You can benefit from it physically and mentally.
A. Physical Benefits
1. Improved Cardiovascular Health:
It is a cardiovascular powerhouse. The sustained effort of walking uphill and navigating varied terrains stimulates your heart and lungs, enhancing their efficiency. As the blood flow increases, your entire circulatory system reaps the rewards.
2. Increased Muscle Strength and Endurance:
Unlike a routine walk, hiking engages various muscles, not just in your legs but also in your core and upper body. The inclines and declines inherent in hiking naturally challenges muscles, leading to increased strength and endurance. With each step, you’re moving forward and sculpting a stronger, more resilient physique.
3. Weight Loss:
It’s not just a walk but also an opportunity to burn calories. Depending on factors like your weight and speed, you can torch up to 600 calories per hour. The consistent effort required to traverse different landscapes makes it a tool for weight loss. Losing those pounds comes naturally when you embrace the beauty of nature.
4. Increased Bone Density:
Hiking offers more than a workout for the heart and muscles; it also provides the benefits of weight-bearing exercise. On the trail, the body constantly works against gravity, especially during ascents and descents. This weight-bearing aspect of it stimulates the bones, encouraging them to adapt and become denser.
Weight-bearing exercises are crucial for bone health, particularly as we age. The increased stress on your bones during hiking prompts the bones to build more tissue, making them stronger and less prone to conditions like osteoporosis. So, while enjoying the scenic views and navigating various terrains, your bones silently become denser, fortifying your skeletal structure for the long run.
B. Mental Health Benefits
1. Reduced Stress:
Stepping into nature has an almost immediate stress-relieving effect, and a study shows this. The tranquil surroundings, the rhythmic sound of footsteps, and the lack of urban noise create a serene environment. It provides the opportunity to detach from the pressures of life allowing your mind to unwind and recharge.
2. Improved Mood:
The physical exertion of hiking releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters. The connection with nature and the beauty of the outdoors has been linked to increased serotonin levels. It acts as a natural mood booster that can potentially relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
3. Better Sleep Quality:
The benefits of hiking extend into the realm of sleep. Regular physical activity, especially in the great outdoors, regulates sleep patterns and improves sleep quality. The exertion, coupled with the calming effects of nature, makes falling into a night of deep, restorative sleep easier.
4. Improved Cognitive Function:
Engaging in activities while being surrounded by greenery, by nature has been shown to improve abilities, such as memory and attention span.   It’s a way to enhance your abilities and maintain mental acuity.
Safety Tips for Hiking
- Plan the hiking route in advance, and make sure to inform someone about your plans. Let them know where the hike is and when you anticipate returning.
- Check the weather forecast before the planned trek. Prepare for changing weather conditions. Bring plenty of water, food, a map, a compass, or, if possible, a GPS device.
- Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Check the terrain and weather conditions.
- Stay on designated trails. Please avoid shortcuts or off-trail hiking, which can lead to accidents and environmental damage.
- Be aware of wildlife in the area and keep a safe distance. Never approach or feed wild animals.
- Carry a first aid kit. Learn how to use it.
- Be prepared for sudden events and emergencies by carrying a whistle, flashlight, and extra clothing.
- Avoid hiking alone. If going solo tell someone know your plans, anticipated hiking route, and return time.
- Always follow Leave No Trace principles to minimise environmental and wildlife impact.
Tips for Beginner Hikers
Start slow. If this is your first time, don’t tackle an arduous trail immediately. Instead of going on a long hike with lots of elevation gain and loss, start with something shorter that doesn’t require as much physical exertion (like a flat walk in your neighbourhood).
Wear suitable clothing for current weather conditions and pack extra layers if needed. You never know when Mother Nature will throw an unexpected cold front at you while out in nature. It’s better to be prepared than sorry later on when temperatures drop unexpectedly, or winds pick up unexpectedly high speeds due to gusts from nearby storms or hurricanes/tropical storms passing through the area where you’re hiking at that moment.
Hiking stands as a beautiful and rewarding way to explore the outdoors while reaping numerous physical and mental health benefits.
From cardiovascular improvements to enhanced cognitive function, the advantages of hiking are extensive. However, safety should always be a priority.
By adhering to safety guidelines and adopting a mindset, both novice and seasoned hikers can set off on an adventure that not only revitalises the body but also nurtures the spirit amidst the beauty of the natural world.
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 Mualem, R., Leisman, G., Zbedat, Y., Ganem, S., Mualem, O., Amaria, M., Kozle, A., Khayat-Moughrabi, S., & Ornai, A. (2018). The Effect of Movement on Cognitive Performance. Frontiers in public health, 6, 100. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00100
Photo by Andrei Tanase: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-standing-on-a-rock-1271619/
Photo by Ben Maxwell: https://www.pexels.com/photo/four-people-walking-on-gray-path-surrounded-by-tall-trees-1194235/
Photo by Jaime Reimer: https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-person-walking-on-unpaved-road-2679814/