Happyfication Exercise: Take a Hike!

Next to fishing down at the lake and roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire, it’s hard to imagine a more iconic camping activity than hiking: marching single file across a grassy clearing, wandering quietly in dappled shade among tall trees, and finally making it to the top of a challenging summit.

The hike is often rewarding enough, but the benefits of hiking go far beyond good vistas. Did you know that it’s good for your health, too? It’s true, and in a surprisingly large number of ways.

Categorized as an aerobic exercise, hiking can help improve:

  • Sleep quality.
  • Muscle strength.
  • Bone density (or slow its loss).
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness including heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
  • Weight control. On average hiking burns up about 250 calories an hour — and people who lose weight through hiking or walking generally maintain that loss and continue to lose, while those who depend on diets tend to gain weight back.

Tramping through the forest can also help reduce your risk for:

  • Tension and anxiety.
  • Heart disease and stroke.
  • Depression (if so afflicted).
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • High blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes.
  • Negative effects of osteoporosis and arthritis.
  • Colon, breast, lung, and endometrial cancers.
  • Early death (Studies have shown that someone who is active for seven hours a week has a 40 percent lower chance of dying early than someone active for less than 30 minutes a week).

Is It OK for Me to Go Hiking?

Though hiking is one of the lowest impact sports, check with your doctor before you hit the trails, especially if you’re over 35, have been a couch potato for several years, or have high blood pressure. Your physician can offer the best guidance on working up to a 12-hour trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, for example. In general, it’s best to start with an easy walk and gradually increase the challenge.

How Much Time Do I Need?

Hiking isn’t just for weekends in the backcountry or your annual two-week road trip. You can sneak in a short 20-minute walk up that hill near your office or home several times a week. Experts say that being active for just two and a half hours a week can gain you a world of benefit. And if you participate in other activities, such as dancing, swimming, or cycling, these all add up to your target of 150 minutes of exercise a week.

Keep a simple record of the amount of time you spend hiking. MapMyHike.com is a great place to track your workouts. You’ll be amazed at how much incentive you have when you can watch your progress.

What Are Some Other Benefits of Hiking?

While getting personal with nature and shedding unwanted pounds are great for improving general health, hiking is also terrific for overall body toning. Constant movement in your shoulders, arms, abdominals, hips, butt, legs, knees, and ankles help contribute to stronger muscles.

Plus, hiking is great for “clearing the head.” Researchers have shown that short-term memory works better when walking than standing still. Learning and reasoning also improve, as does your mood. It’s no wonder cranky people are told to “go take a hike!”

Lace Up and Start Walking

Whether it’s getting to places in our national, state, and local forests, accessing wilderness areas and campgrounds that are inaccessible by motor vehicle, or improving your physical and mental well being, nothing beats a good long hike. So get out there, get moving, and start cashing in on the abundant benefits of hiking!

(Adapted from Active.com)