Is Hiking Good for You? 6 Benefits of Hiking

Published on 02/08/2023 · 7 min readHiking has a ton of benefits for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being! Camping and Hiking Expert Nicole O. dives into 6 of the main benefits.
Nicole O, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Nicole O

Photo by Kelly Repreza

Hiking, whether it’s a long, intense mountain trail or even just walking around a neighborhood park, can be a pleasant, enjoyable, and relaxing experience. No wonder hiking has become one of the world's most popular outdoor activities and my personal favorite hobby! Hiking has so many wonderful benefits for mental and physical health. Read this article to learn more about the many benefits of hiking for your well-being.

6 Hiking Benefits for Your Well-Being

1. Physical Exercise

Photo by Holly Mandarich 

Hiking trails are a great exercise that doesn't always even feel like exercise! Obviously, climbing up a giant mountain will leave you sweaty and out of breath. But you don’t have to do that to gain benefits from hiking. Hikes of all levels, even some simple hikes without a ton of elevation gain, are wonderful and gentle workouts to incorporate into your everyday life where you can enjoy some wonderful time outside. Even just some small one or two-mile trails around your neighborhood after work will benefit your mental and physical health since you're incorporating regular physical activity into your routine and spending time outside regularly.

Hiking some trails regularly, even relatively short, is a great tool to increase endurance, cardiovascular stamina, and mental stamina. It’s also a great exercise for people of all different fitness levels or ages. It is easy to start and build up to longer trails if that is something you’re interested in, even if you don’t have any prior experience. This easy-entry makes hiking an ideal exercise for people just starting to get interested in fitness.

2. Mood Booster

Photo by Alexander Grey

Hiking is a great and effective mood booster. Many people report feeling happier, less stressed, calmer, and more joyful when they spend some time outside regularly. Spending time in nature has so many benefits for mental health. It has been shown to decrease anxiety and other negative emotions, allow creativity to flourish, boost your mood, release positive endorphins, and help you reconnect with yourself and nature. (Bonus points for hiking somewhere without cell service!) It does wonders for your mental health to be unplugged for a bit.

The great outdoors is the ideal place to bring some calmness into your life. Hiking is also shown to boost your self-esteem and self-confidence. I feel better about myself after a backpacking trip! Getting some miles under your feet is a fantastic way to feel accomplished and proud of yourself and what your body can do. Go outside and celebrate what your body is capable of!

3. Strengthens Muscles

Photo by Andrea Sanchez

For me, hiking is my absolute favorite way to get a full workout without owning a gym membership. It's a great workout for your muscles, including your most important muscle: your heart! Incorporating hiking into your lifestyle regularly lowers your cholesterol, risk of high blood pressure, and risk of heart disease since it's a great form of exercise and it’s enjoyable. By increasing your heart rate regularly, your body will thank you in the long run. Increased heart rate and blood flow are linked to many health benefits, such as better memory, faster wound healing, better circulation, and more.

Hikers also gain the benefit of some nice and strong leg muscles. Quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves will be nice and strong if you dedicate a lot of time to hiking and/or backpacking. And while I'll admit it's not the best upper body workout in the world, trekking poles and/or having a backpack on does help a little! Another great bonus is that hiking is relatively easy on your joints compared to running. While hiking can be a bit rough on your knees (like running), you can mitigate some of the stress if you use trekking poles on steep trails or when you have a heavy pack on.

The combination of strength and cardio training makes hiking a great overall workout. However, in addition to helping your cardiovascular system thrive, and your muscles get stronger, hiking is a great way to help improve balance and coordination. It strengthens your core and stabilization muscles, and hiking outside on uneven terrain makes you more coordinated. As a self-proclaimed clumsy soul, hiking has personally helped me fall less and be more aware of my surroundings in day-to-day life, which is a huge benefit.

4. Vitamin D

Sunrays in Utah. Photo by Nicole O.

Getting outside and soaking up some glorious sunshine daily is shown to increase vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is a serious problem affecting many adults. Vitamin D is necessary for humans to thrive since it helps our body obtain calcium and phosphorous, which is vital for building bones. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone density loss (which puts you at risk for fractures or osteoporosis). In addition, it can cause fatigue, inflammation, depression, and other muscle and joint pain or deformities. However, by having frequent exposure to some sunlight, you significantly lower the risk of being vitamin D deficient and help improve your bone health and increase bone density.

Hiking is a great exercise to keep your body in shape in a healthy, gentle way. Always be safe, though, and wear high-SPF sunscreen to prevent sunburns and risk for skin cancer!

5. Burn Calories

Trail in Alaska. Photo by Nicole O.

Hiking is a great way to burn calories, especially if you're backpacking or hiking with lots of elevation gain or tricky, uneven terrain. Always make sure to pack some snacks, though! Even if weight loss is a personal goal, you need good carbs and healthy snacks to make big miles happen.

It is hard to calculate how many calories a hike burns since so many different factors go into it. Factors like the weather and temperature, how even the terrain is, distance, speed, backpack weight, your body weight, and elevation gain and loss are all important factors in determining how many calories you’ve burned on a hike. However, 200 calories per mile is a common average so a six-mile hike could burn well over a thousand calories in just a few enjoyable hours. This makes hiking a great way to burn calories, maintain or achieve your ideal body weight, and have fun simultaneously!

6. Increased Mindfulness

Photo by James Wheeler

Hiking can increase mindfulness and the ability to be present. Being unplugged and out of cell service is wonderful for your mental well-being. Having some uninterrupted time in nature is a great way for humans to recharge their batteries and connect more with themselves and the natural world. It is also a great time to reflect and think about life. Being alone with your thoughts every now and then is a great benefit of spending time in nature by yourself.

Some people compare hiking to meditation and find their minds go blank. Others find it to be a great time to observe nature and notice the little details like birds chirping, itty bitty mushrooms hidden by moss, the smell of pines, the sound of a squirrel hopping from tree to tree, or some beautiful, tiny lichen that would otherwise be overlooked in a busier environment. Going out into nature, noticing the little details, and paying attention to what each of your five senses is experiencing is a great exercise to be more in touch with nature.

The term “forest bathing” is a Japanese practice that’s been around since the 1980s, referring to just that! It is a very popular way to destress and appreciate nature, and it gets more popular each year as more people realize the benefits of spending time outside.

Conclusion

Photo by Nicole O.

I hope this article inspired you to get outside a little bit more! Every minute you spend out in nature is a great way to help your mind heal, let your stress fade, and have your body get stronger. These are six of my personal favorite benefits of hiking, but there are too many to list here. Make it a goal to spend some time outside this week and see what other benefits you can find and how incorporating regular hikes into your everyday life helps you!

Thank you so much for reading this list of benefits you gain from hiking, and if you need any hiking gear to get you outside more often, please contact a Curated Expert for all your hiking needs.

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