Fall is in full swing and for many this means it’s a great time to get outside and do some hiking! Hiking is good for your mind, body and soul. There are many great reasons to go on a hike. Let us count the ways . . .
Hiking Increases Happiness
Ever wonder why walking along the beach or hanging out by a waterfall instills such a sense of euphoria and a desire to breath deep? Being in natural environments energizes us and increases feelings of positivity and well-being. Distance from everyday stresses may be part of the reason for these feelings but another cause is our exposure to negative ions.
Commonly found in large amounts near bodies of water and in nature, negative ions are thought to increase serotonin levels making us feel good and helping us process our emotions. They also are thought to increase delivery of oxygen to our brains and prevent germs and allergens from being inhaled.
For more detail on negative ions and their impact on your health, check out our recent blog post about negative ions and their impact on your health here.
And Decreases Stress and Depression
Spending time in a natural environment is also shown to decrease feelings of stress and depression. This study specifically concluded that walking in nature with a group of friends may be the best stress-buster out there. Turns out there is a good reason why when we get angry or stressed, the oft suggested remedy is to “take a breather” or “go for a walk and get some fresh air”.
Hiking Strengthens Us . . .
The varied terrain of hiking strengthens our bones (it’s a weight bearing exercise), muscles and connective tissues. It engages all those little stabilizing and core muscles that give us balance, coordination and teaches our bodies proprioception (the position of your body in space and time). Using all these extra muscles requires more energy and also burns more calories than walking on smooth roads.
. . . While Being Gentle
Spending time on natural surfaces also reduces impact on your joints. Unless you are jumping off boulders like a Billy goat, trail surfaces like dirt, grass and sand are softer than asphalt or concrete and reduce overall impact on our bodies. The increased energy it takes to rebound off a soft surface also boosts your muscle strength and stamina.
Hiking Helps Our Biometrics
Hiking can help us physically beyond the obvious stronger muscles and calorie burn. Exercise in general, has been proven to lower risk for heart disease, lower blood pressure and help manage or reverse diabetes. This study in the Swiss Alps looked at how hiking up or down a mountainside effected blood chemistry and found hiking both uphill and downhill reduced LDL cholesterol levels, only hiking uphill helped reduce triglyceride levels and surprisingly, hiking downhill was twice as effective at removing blood sugars and improving glucose tolerance. The downhills may feel like less of a workout but they are still doing great things for our bodies.
. . . And Keeps Us Mentally Healthy
There is a reason why people who are chronically depressed are treated with bright UV light therapy. Bright sunlight (especially at the beginning and middle of our day), high-density negative air ion exposure and auditory stimuli have been proven to boost our mood and quickly diffuse negative emotions. Spending time outside can check all these boxes.
This study shows that experiencing a natural environment also lowers incidences of rumination (repetition of negative thoughts), a known risk factor for mental illness.
Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity
Time spent outside (and away from technology) increases creative thinking and problem solving abilities. This study took participants on a four to six day wilderness hike and then tested their creativity. Their scores were 50 percent higher after their hikes. Researchers speculate the reason for the improvement may be that a relaxed brain without competing neural activities allows for an openness to new flexible ways of thinking.
. . . And Helps Us Sleep Better
Since inadequate sleep is associated with obesity and decreased mental and physical health, getting enough sleep is important. Studies show that exposure to natural environments reduces the number of self-reported nights with lost sleep in adults. Turns out obtaining a good night’s sleep may be only a hike away.
Hiking Helps Achieve Long Term Results
Since being in nature feels so great, spending time outside means we are more likely to want to go it again (and again) and stick with our exercise routines. The more consistent you are with workouts, the more likely you are to see long term results.
Hiking Can Be Social
And social is proven to be healthier. Social relationships with friends and family help us to thrive. This study concluded that increases in the amount of social contact of breast cancer patients directly impact their survival rates. Not only is being with others safer than being in the wilderness alone, hiking with others and conquering that peak or finding that waterfall together creates connections that improve our mental health and physical well-being. None of your friends interested in getting outside with you? Take a pup! Growing research indicates owning a dog has health benefits and dogs make great hiking partners.
Hiking Provides A Sense of Adventure
Adding adventure to your routine can be fun. Finding a new trail to explore, peak to summit or hidden waterfall provides a sense of newness and keeps life from feeling stale or boring. Simple joys found hiking foster a sense of gratitude and adventure you can take into the rest of your day.
As you can see, hiking is a great way to rejuvenate your mind body and soul. While Fall, with its milder temperatures and beautiful scenery may be the season most associated with hiking, any time time of year is a great time to be outside trekking through nature.
The best place to hike is the one you are most likely to make time to go to and most times, great hikes can be found near your own backyard. If you are looking for some once in a lifetime or more exotic hiking options, check out this bucket list of U.S. trails from Fitness Magazine, or the World’s Best Hikes: 20 Dream Trails by an organization that knows their trails: National Geographic.