The Case for Hiking as the Ultimate Workout for Mental and Physical Health

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If you ever wondered why they’re called the Blue Ridge Mountains–this is it.

This past weekend I went on a quick getaway to North Carolina to reset. It was a much needed chance to regroup, plan for the months ahead, connect with my husband, Chris, and enjoy a LOT of really good food and really good hiking. Definitely more food than hiking, but sometimes balance means leaning a little bit more toward the indulgent side.

While up in the mountains, I found myself leaving behind the anxieties and nagging to do list of home. Each step upward was a step further away from the day to day issues that had been bothering me. It really got me thinking–what is it about hiking that creates such clarity? Now, don’t get me wrong, I was also sweating and struggling to catch my breath, feeling the aching in my legs get worse as I climbed the steep, root filled, sometimes-muddy trail, but the physical struggle felt symbolic of the mental struggle that I was leaving behind.

I know that sounds like an awful lot to get out of one hike, and trust me, I think it sounds a little crazy too, but that’s where I’m at. Chris was in the same boat too, quickly suggesting that we try to conquer a 25 mile trail closer to home by the end of the year. 25 miles. From the guy who laughs when I ask if he wants to hit the gym with me. That’s the magic of this hike, y’all.

When we got back to the hostel, before falling into bed (and I was asleep by like 8 that night, no shame here), I decided to look into what it is about hiking that is so freeing. Man, did I find some answers. So, why do I think you should add hiking into your fitness routine? Here it is:

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Being In Nature Can Improve Mood and Mental Health

This is clearly the part I have talked about the most already, but beyond my personal experience, a Stanford University study showed that spending 90 minutes walking in nature reduces the activity in the part of the brain associated with depression and other mental illness. Obviously going for a hike is not going to cure someone who is struggling with their mental health, but finding healthy outlets to help manage it, alongside the support of a doctor and medicine when needed, is a huge part of improving quality of life.

Cardio and Strength Training

If you are looking for efficiency in your workouts, what could be better than knocking out your cardio and strength training at the same time? Hiking raises your heart rate and puts your lungs to work while also building balance, and leg and core strength. That’s a huge win in my books.

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Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

This piggybacks off the last point, but to drive it home–hiking is great for your health. Any exercise that works your cardiovascular system is going to be good for your heart and hiking is no exception. If you want to lower your risk of heart disease, improve your blood pressure, and improve your blood sugar, then lace up those hiking boots and hit the trail, my friend!

Improve Relationships

Hiking can be fun and a reflective time when done alone (although I’d always recommend letting people know where you are and sticking to well traveled trails for safety if going it alone), but bringing a friend or a group along really adds to the experience. There’s nothing like fighting through a tough trail with some friends, bonding over the struggle, and reveling in the views at the end together. You learn a lot about how people deal with challenges when on a hike and it’s really a great way to connect on a deeper level and have some fun while you’re at it.

If hiking sounds hard and you are picturing yourself with a 50 pound backpack strapped to your back while you slowly drag yourself up a cliff, never fear. It doesn’t take a lot to experience the health benefits of hiking. Hell, start out at a local park to get your feet wet, walk a paved trail, go half a mile….all it takes is to get in nature and get moving. No fancy equipment, no need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone (unless you want to!), and no end to the possibilities. So get out there hike!

 

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