You're long overdue for some exercise, but you need something more interesting than regular trips to the gym. You want to unwind, unplug, and relax. It's time to pack a water bottle and trail mix, put on some good shoes, and get outdoors. Get out of the city, go into the hills or woods, and take a hike.
Whether you hike with a partner or choose to go solo, hiking has loads of health benefits. While the physical ones are the most obvious, disconnecting from your normal routine and tapping into your surroundings can also help to clear your head. Hiking regularly can have a profound effect on your overall health: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
1. Step Away
Right now, you're most likely reading this sitting at your computer. You might be at home, or maybe you're at work. Perhaps you're reading this on your smart phone while you're on the bus. While you take in this information, you're constantly being barraged by information from your surroundings. From the low hum of ambient noise to flashing lights in the peripheral, it's easy to overload. Hiking provides a chance to escape computers, cell phones, and traffic. The sights and sounds you experience while hiking can offer the chance to finally hear yourself think.
2. Help Your Blood
Hiking uphill will burn more calories, lower bad cholesterol, and reduce levels of triglycerides -- the chemical form of fat in your body. However, don't sweat it if you're not feeling up to the challenge. A study by the Vorarlberg Institute for Vascular Investigation and Treatment found that walking downhill is more effective at increasing the body's tolerance for glucose, which can help prevent diabetes.
3. Lift Your Mood
Exercising is one of the easiest ways to combat foul moods and depression. Fresh air combined with vitamin D from the sun makes hiking outdoors more beneficial than simply walking. A study in 2007 found that 71 percent of people who hiked outdoors had decreased depression symptoms, while about 25 percent of people who walked in malls had increased symptoms of depression.
4. Keep Emotions in Balance
The exercise and calm surroundings of hiking can help you achieve emotional stability. The physical part of exercise increases serotonin and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, which can help with depression, anxiety, and stress. The views, wildlife, and other pleasures of hiking can help provide an inner calm and give you time to sort things out.
5. Treat and Prevent Conditions
Hiking, or even regular walking, can help to prevent the bone-destroying condition osteoporosis, as well as diabetes and heart disease. If you suffer from arthritis, hiking can help to relieve symptoms. It lowers blood pressure and is good for lower back pain.
6. Stay Young
An active lifestyle helps keep you young. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that men who exercised regularly were much less likely to lose aerobic power. Researchers found that a sedentary lifestyle accelerated the aging process. Also, the nature of hiking -- traversing off the sidewalk and into the wild -- helps keep your adventurous spirit alive.