As the weather warms up and the days lengthen, people across the US and the world will be heading outdoors to enjoy hiking. Hiking—or vigorous, recreational walking in the countryside—has grown largely in the last few years and as of 2019 was the fourth most popular outdoor activity in the United States.
It’s easy to see why. Hiking is not only very fun, it’s also very good for you. Here are five brilliant reasons to lace up your walking boots and go for a hike this spring.
Hiking offers all-round, low-impact exercise
Hiking is a full-body workout. Vigorous walking gets your heart beating faster and your blood pumping, offering a cardiovascular workout that will improve your heart and lung health. If one of your health goals is to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, regular cardiovascular exercise is a vital part of that process.
Hiking also helps to strengthen your bones and muscles, especially if you hike in hilly areas or on uneven terrain. Your lower body muscles, including your quad, calf, and hamstring muscles, will particularly thank you.
Hiking is a lower impact form of exercise than running, making it gentler on your joints and reducing the risk of injuries. If you do find yourself suffering from any joint pain, a knee sleeve or ankle sleeve can help.
Being outdoors gives you a Vitamin D boost
The term “Vitamin D” actually refers to a group of vitamins, the most important compounds of which for good health are Vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) and Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles.
The main natural source of D vitamins is through sunlight, which is why deficiencies are common in colder climates and during the winter. It’s also possible to get a small amount from certain foods and from supplements.
Hiking regularly in the warmer months can give your Vitamin D stores a boost as you’ll be spending plenty of time in the sun. Remember to use sunscreen and put on a hat to protect yourself from burns and heatstroke.
Spending time in nature helps maintain good mental health
Hiking has mental benefits as well as physical ones. Walking can act as a form of meditation, grounding you in the moment and helping you to be present. This type of mindful movement is known to reduce symptoms of stress and depression.
Spending time in nature, enjoying beautiful surroundings and noticing the world around you, is also associated with a reduction in stress and greater mental health.
In Japan, people practice something called shinrin yoku (“forest bathing”). This refers to heading out into natural spaces and taking it in through all five senses. This practice boosts mood, revitalizes energy, and leaves you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. So why not use your next hike to unplug from the modern world and really notice your surroundings?
Hiking is a great social activity
Whether you hike with your partner, family, or friends, hiking is a fantastic way to enjoy quality time with your loved ones. You can talk to your companion(s) while you walk, and if you take on a particularly challenging hike together you’ll share a sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished.
If you don’t have anybody to hike with, consider joining a group or club in your local area. You’ll meet other hiking enthusiasts and make some new friends.
Hiking with others is also far safer, especially if you want to hike more difficult routes.
Exposure to nature strengthens your immune system
Any form of regular exercise is great news for your immune system, helping to strengthen it and ultimately ward off illness and disease. But some studies have shown that hiking, in particular, has unique immunological benefits.
One study, by Japanese scientist Qing Li, showed that walking outdoors increased participants’ white blood cells by 40% and that they remained 15% higher a month later. In other words, when you go hiking regularly, your body will become more adept at fighting off illness. Similarly, Yoshifumi Miyazaki found that leisurely outdoor walks led to a 1.4% decrease in blood pressure and a 5.8% decrease in heart rate.
Researchers have also found that walking in nature can help to prevent a wide range of health problems including depression, diabetes, obesity, ADHD, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many more. So if you want to stay healthy in both the long and short term, hiking is an ideal form of exercise to choose.
With all these great reasons to head to the trails, we hope we have inspired you to give it a go this spring. Happy hiking!