Rock climbers, campers, fishers, mountain bikers, and hikers—we all have those extra-crunchy, outdoorsy friends. The ones who seem to spend more time in the sun than at work. And some of the happiest people you know—nothing gets them down.
They’re high on life, man.
It’s no coincidence—exploring the great outdoors is awesome for mental and physical health. Luckily, you don’t have to have a carbon fiber bike, fishing rod, or a decked-out camp set to enjoy the peace nature provides. All it takes is a sturdy set of boots and the willingness to take a hike.
Here are 10 scientifically sound benefits of hiking, plus a few tips for your own outdoor adventures.
10 Awesome Benefits of Hiking
Be Closer to Nature
Our ancestors spent millennia living outside, and it’s good to indulge our primal instincts every now and then. Even spending 15 minutes in the wild—or your backyard—is shown to reduce stress levels. And one reason is purely auditory. The sounds of the natural world—the babbling brook, the crunch of leaves, the wind breezing lazily by—are all forms of pink noise, which has been found to relax the mind and lower blood pressure.
Absorb the Vitamin D Your Body Needs
Time outside gives you an energetic dose of sunlight, which signals to your body to produce a mood-boosting dose of vitamin D. Wear an appropriately rated SPF sunscreen and reapply often—especially when sweating or swimming. Low levels of UV exposure are just as bad as too much sun, leading to vitamin D deficiency. Reach for a vitamin D supplement when your time in the sun is lacking.
Challenge Your Mind
Huffing it up the hillside combines exercise, the outdoors, companionship, and screen-free time—a wonderful combination for your mental well-being. Navigating a mountain trail can also help sharpen your mind as you focus on the road ahead of you and employ all your senses to detect any danger that may come your way. There’s a reason history’s greatest explorers were also some of the smartest people of their time.
Keep Your Healthy Lifestyle on the Right Path
Walking at an incline engages your whole body. Your heart and lungs work harder to channel oxygen to every hard-working organ. Hiking can also reduce bad snacking, leading to healthier eating habits. Packing wholesome, low-glycaemic foods for energy will keep you energized on the trail while making your body and waistline happy.
There’s no better way to experience nature than with a buddy (or two, or three). Family, friends, even your fur baby will enjoy the benefits of hiking and your companionship. In an age where face-to-face interactions are at a premium, going outside with a pal or two gives you the opportunity to catch up and challenge each other on the trail.
Hiking isn’t just about escaping to the great outdoors. It also engages your body in moderate exercise, which contributes to a healthy cardiovascular system. Your heart loves being active, and hiking pushes your body. Consistent exercise like hiking can improve blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and lower your risk for heart disease.
Better Bone Density
Studies show weight-resistance training—working against gravity—is the best kind of exercise for strengthening bones. A mountain provides the ultimate resistance workout as you fight the forces of gravity and physics to move closer to the peak. And the relief of coming downhill engages multiple muscle groups to create a softer landing. But take it easy on those knees.
It’s easy to see why the majesty of our earth has been such an inspiring muse. Being one with nature frees your mind and shows you views and wonders you won’t see anywhere else. You leave behind what ties you down at home—deadlines, money, and responsibilities seem to disappear.
Burn Away Body Fat
Hiking burns an average of 440 calories per hour. That’s a hefty amount! And the benefits of hiking and regular exercise only look better long-term—your overall metabolic rate increases in correlation with more muscle mass and a healthier heart, even at rest. Plus, there’s no fast food on the trail, so your temptations to eat junk food aren’t there.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
One of the benefits of hiking is exploring and meeting people out on the trail, giving them the patented hikers wave, pursed-lipped smile, and head nod. Even outdoor extroverts will find challenges delving into the unknown. But once you start hiking consistently, you’ll find yourself pushing harder and faster, traversing trails you never dreamed of conquering when you started. You might become a whole new person.
Make the Most of the Outdoors
Before you venture out, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Pack plenty of water, food, sunscreen, and bug spray. Your body will thank you.
- Wear the right shoes and socks. Nothing is worse than realizing your feet are toast halfway up the mountain.
- Get the facts on local insects. Did you know Australia is home to some of the world’s most venomous spiders?
- Carry a satellite phone and tell someone where you’re going. No one wants to end up like James Franco in 127 Hours.
- Hike with friends. There’s safety in numbers, and it’s a good chance you can outrun at least one of them.
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About the author
Steve is a dad to a human baby and a fur baby, a born and bred Utahn, and an occasional writer who enjoys sports, food, and fast cars.