Latin for “It is solved by walking.”
From the mountains of the Pacific Northwest to the granite walls that loom high above Yosemite National Park. There are endless reasons why we choose to get outdoors and hike. Often times it is an easy way to escape the everyday grind of the monotonous routines of modern daily life.
Hiking is nothing more than taking a walk outside, it sounds simple, right?
The many health benefits of hiking range from cardiovascular to pulmonary. Hiking is an escape from the everyday grind of your daily routine. Whether your hiking to clear your mind or get a workout, hiking is good for the mind, body, and soul.
11 Amazing Health Benefits of Hiking
Hiking is one of the most rewarding outdoor activities that you can do. It is a a great way to enjoy the outdoors while giving your while challenging yourself both mentally while getting a physical workout in as well. Here are 11 scientifically backed reasons to get out there and spend time in nature.
1. Hiking has cardiovascular benefits
Hiking is a cardiovascular exercise, any exercise that raises your heart rate is considered a cardio workout. Our bodies love movement, it feels awesome to work up a sweat and get your heart beating. Whenever I get done with a hard workout I always feel like the problems of the day aren’t as big as before.
Our cardiovascular system needs a good workout just as much as our legs, arms, and stomach. A good hike with a 2000 foot elevation gain gets the blood pumping and your system firing on all cylinders.
The AHA recommendations for cardiovascular health are…
- At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes
- At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
- Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.
2. Hiking reduces hypertension and diabetes
According to the Center for Disease Control via The National Diabetes Statistics report in 2017 an estimated 30.2 million adults over the age of 18 have diabetes. Of those 30.2 million an alarming rate of nearly 1 in 4 have no idea they even have diabetes. If you do not have diabetes, there are still significant risks associated with hypertension and high blood pressure.
Hypertension is when the pressure of the blood pumping through your body is operating higher than it should be. Hypertension is a silent killer and can cause damage to your circulatory system for years without you knowing. When you do find out, often it’s too late and in the form a disability, poor quality of life, or the worst case scenario, a heart attack.
Studies have shown that increased exercise can reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol, and your chances of getting diabetes just as much as running. When on a steep climb, as a hiker, you know your heart is pounding just as much, if not more than a brisk jog.
3. Hiking Increases Bone Density
Bone health is important, especially as you get older. Brittle and weak bones can cause painful breaks and long-lasting health problems. You’re never too old to start thinking about and increasing your bone density/health through hiking.
Ronald Zernicke, Ph.D. the director of the University of Michigan Bone & Joint Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation Center conducted a scholarly review of bone health. He went through information over the last 50 years on the impact exercise has on skeletal tissue and bone health.
Dr. Zernicke’s conclusion researching 50 years of information…
“Physical activity is absolutely beneficial for overall bone health. It is a modifiable factor that we can have control of for the development and maintenance of healthy bone mass.”
Hiking fits the bill, it’s a muscle intense activity on your entire body. Your legs, core, and shoulders! Just add one more reason to the longgg list (not that you need one) to get outside and experience nature at it’s best.
4. Hiking For Weight Loss
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Disease, more than two-thirds of the population of the United States is either overweight or obese based on the BMI index.
Yes, there are always exceptions to every rule, and BMI is no different. For instance, Joe Rogan, the podcaster and comedian is considered obese by these standards and nothing could be further from the truth.
Obesity is the cause of a number of health risks, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, kidney and liver disease, pregnancy problems, and type 2 diabetes. According to the Harvard Gazette, 85% of obese people have type 2 diabetes.
Gaining a few pounds a year is no biggie, however, if you’re not careful it can add up quickly.
Two major factors play a role in weight loss, diet and you guessed it, hiking. Well, exercise if you want to be a stickler for the vernacular, but we’re sticking with hiking for obvious reasons.
5. Hiking Decreases the Risk for Heart Disease and Bad Cholesterol (LDL)
We can all agree that having a healthy heart is an important part of life. Nothing feels better than getting your heart pumping with a tough yet rewarding hike.
By hiking on a regular basis you reduce your risk of heart disease and a coronary heart attack. According to Health Metrics via the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the underlying cause of death accounting for every 1 in 3 deaths in the United States. Every year 2,200 Americans die from heart disease every day, or 1 death every 40 seconds.
Bad cholesterol or LDL’s have been linked to heart disease and are more prevalent when you are overweight. Recently researchers are beginning to understand that being overweight leads to an increase in LDL’s, therefore, it leads to an increase in the chance of heart disease. The best way to combat this is to exercise and to operate at your bodies optimal weight.
Believe it or not, there are positives that come out of these depressing studies. The solution to combating heart disease is simple, healthy living. There are three steps to healthy living, a healthy diet, not smoking, and hiking every chance you get.
6. Hiking Increases Pulmonary Function
Breathing is something that we rarely think about, and that’s because we don’t have to. It is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System which controls actions our bodies take that you don’t have to actively think about. Things like breathing, sexual arousal, heart rate, and digestion.
Hiking increases lung function and lung capacity, a Pulmonary function. The more often you hike, the more ground you are able to cover in a shorter amount of time. Not exactly a scientific revelation, but you get the point.
The more intense your hike is, the more oxygen your muscles need. According to the NCIB, healthy lungs deliver the necessary oxygen to your blood, which in turn carries it to your muscles.
When you have reduced lung function you use a large part of your breathing reserve which makes you feel out of breath. If you have ever hiked with a smoker you understand the importance of lung health. Hiking is supposed to be a healthy activity, and being able to get keep a decent pace and never completely run out of breath is one of the best feelings in the world.
7. Hiking Reduces Stress
Another benefit of hiking is the reduction of stress. If you are not familiar with the lasting damage that stress can cause on your body, you’re most likely familiar with the instant side effects. We have all experienced our bodies natural stress response in the chemical Cortisol.
According to Christopher Bergland of Psychology Today, Cortisol, the stress hormone is “public enemy number one.” Elevated Cortisol levels lead to a number of negative health effects on your body such as increased blood pressure, lower bone density, increase weight gain, and lower immune.
All that sounds pretty scary considering you don’t have complete control over when you start to feel stressed out. Fortunately, 3 of the 5 ways to limit the stress response, per American Psychology Today, are done on a hike regularly.
Exercise, social connectivity, and laughter all made the list. Any hike worth its salt will have a large amount of all three. You get your heart pounding, with friends, while sharing stories and laughing.
So leave behind your worries and grab a friend or two and hit the trail.
8. Hiking Increases Exposure to Vitamin D
Exposing your skin to the sun feels great and it’s no surprise that the sun makes you feel so good. It always feels great to throw on your bathing suit and flip-flops after a long cold winter.
Lucky for us, there are healthy excuses to get out and enjoy the sun (not that you need any).
According to Dr. Edward Group,Vitamin D has so many benefits that trying list them all would take way too long, however, these 3 benefits of Vitamin D have been extensively researched and deserve to be highlighted.
- It is nutrition for your brain, recent research shows a link between Vitamin D deficiency and Alzheimer’s
- Vitamin D has been shown to be a useful auto-immune system regulator
- According to Dr. Mercola, it is better at fighting the flu than a vaccine
So if you’re craving a little health boost after being cooped up all winter long, get out and enjoy the sun. Find a hike that has plenty of sunlight exposure and remember to start early and use sunscreen. Too much if a good thing can be a bad thing, moderation is key.
9. Hiking Gives You Quality Sleep
In bed by reading a book by 9 and asleep by 10? In a perfect world that’s how it works, unfortunately, real life does not always work that way. With all the modern distractions, I’m lucky to get good nights rest more than 4 nights a week.
Lack of sleep or insomnia is a familiar health issue in the US. An estimated 50-70 million people suffer from a sleep disorder and research has shown that 21% of fatal car accidents involve a drowsy driver.
Getting a good night sleep is not limited to safety on the road, lack of sleep has a direct effect on your overall health.
Current estimates on the hours of sleep differ by age group, however, the ideal timeframe is 7-9 hours. In reality that’s not always going to happen, just remember that anything under 6 hours is not enough.
Lucky for us, the number 1 tip for getting a good nights rest from Harvard Medical School is hiking. Well, technically they used the term exercise but whatever. Ideally, you’d like to fall asleep naturally and wake up without an alarm clock and a challenging trek in the mountains is just what the doctor ordered.
10. Hiking builds you core muscles
Hiking works most of the muscles in your body and if you wear a backpack when hiking the core is strengthened even more. Walking on surfaces that are uneven and uphill forces your body to adjust and is a natural way to engage the muscles in your torso and back. This type of motion is not achievable if your are walking on a flat surface or getting your miles in on a treadmill.
Your core muscles play a role in every activity from when you wake up until you fall asleep. Your core muscles are the foundation of your body and support spine and pelvis, which in turn, support the rest of your body (source).
11. Hiking Reduces Your Risk of Chronic Disease
The World Health Organization states that chronic disease accounts for 60 percent of all deaths worldwide. It is an encompassing term covering a range of diseases, generally acquired by a sedentary lifestyle.
In the United States alone, chronic disease affects 130 million Americans at an overall cost to the economy of a whopping 2.5 trillion dollars. Numbers like that make my head spin.
- One in two Americans now suffer from chronic disease, and one in four has multiple chronic conditions.
- Chronic disease is responsible for seven of ten deaths each year.
- The rate of chronic disease in kids more than doubled between 1994 and 2006.
- 84 percent of the $3.8 trillion we spend on healthcare in the United States each year goes toward treating chronic disease.
Chronic disease is an invisible slow-moving epidemic that is grouped into a number of different categories and currently treated with medicine. Which isn’t always the best since one medicine leads to another, which leads to another and another. It’s a pill laden domino effect.
Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyle are two of the major contributors to Chronic Disease. A new school of thought surrounding chronic disease is that the best way to fight it is by living a healthy life and exercise.
Once again, hiking comes in to play. There’s not a better way to spend an afternoon or weekend. You might as well hit the trail, you’ll live longer.
This clip from the Joe Rogan Podcast with Dr. Chris Kresser sheds light on the grave dangers that chronic disease poses on the US, absolutely worth 10 minutes of your time.
There’s a recurring theme that seems to find it’s way into every part of this list, the lack of exercise. Hiking is an important way to fight all kinds of disease. It has a positive effect on all aspects of our lives, from health to relationships to a good nights sleep.
Whether it’s heading to the mountains on a weekend getaway or walking the trails in your neighborhood, just get out there.
Hiking does not have to be hours away from home and that’s the beauty of it. Find a trail close to home or a short drive away. Whatever you do and wherever you go, just get outside and hike more. It’ll save your life 🙂