The list of reasons to get into hiking is infinite. Let’s start with the basics. Hiking, whether up tall peaks, down steep canyons, or forest bathing along a quiet, mossy path through the woods, is an inexpensive and widely accessible way to get into shape. You can choose the route, pace, and duration according to your fitness level and goals to gradually build a solid foundation of strength and endurance that will serve as a springboard for other sports.
What does hiking do for your body?
As if that weren’t enough, the benefits of hiking extend to both your physical and mental health.
1. Reduces stress & depression
Exercising outdoors reduces stress levels and depression. One study looked at the effects of urbanization on mental health. Results showed that those who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.(1)
Have you ever heard of forest bathing? Known as shinrin-yoku in Japanese, forest bathing is practiced in Japan to reconnect with nature and reduce stress. The point is to slow down and take in your surroundings with all of your senses. It’s not the same as hiking and there’s no actual bathing involved, but by smelling, seeing, and touching the natural environment, you experience significant positive effects on mental health.(2) So if you’re feeling anxious, go take a slow walk in the outdoors. Leave the asphalt behind you and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.
2. Increases bone density
Starting at the age of about 30, bone density and muscle tone begin to decline. One of the best ways to counter this unfortunate development is with exercise. Regular aerobic activity and strength training, including exercises like jump squats, puts stress on the bone which stimulates calcium deposits and bone growth.(3) The more load you add to weight-bearing activities, the better it is for your bones. That means carrying a pack, hiking at an incline, and using trekking poles are great ways to keep your bones strong.
3. Improves cardiovascular health
Lifestyle diseases resulting from a lack of physical activity and unbalanced nutrition include obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.(4)
Improving your cardiovascular health not only reduces your risk of developing these common diseases, it can also make you feel younger. Add hiking to your fitness routine to build leg strength and get an incredible cardio workout. You can track your progress in the adidas Running app by changing your sport type to “Hiking”. Keep an eye on your heart rate with a smartwatch and calculate your max heart rate to get the most out of your hike.
4. Hiking for weight loss
Moderate intensity walking is a great way to build your endurance if you want to get into hiking. After you’ve built up some leg strength and want to push it to the next level, try hiking for weight loss to burn more calories. Your calorie burn depends on factors like intensity, pace, fitness level, age, and bodyweight.
Since speed contributes to calorie burn and we know that running burns more calories than walking, it’s clear that a tough hike with a pack at a brisk pace will burn more calories than a slow forest bathing session in the woods.
Think about what your goal is. Hiking for weight loss? Forest bathing for stress relief? Let your goal determine what kind of hikes and routes would bring you the most benefits.