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
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.
And Decreases Stress and Depression
Spending time in a natural environment is also shown to decrease feelings of stress and depression. Walking in nature is one of the best stress-busters available to us. 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.
. . . 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 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.