Finally! Winter is nearing its end. That means better weather and warm days ahead. Thankfully, that also means that there is more opportunity to get outside and get some exercise. One of the best ways to do that is through hiking – just a quick google search gives a laundry list of its benefits.
At face value, it’s important not to understate some of the physical benefits of hiking. Like most physical activities, hiking can contribute to: building stronger muscles and bones, improving your sense of balance, improving heart health, and decreasing the risk of certain respiratory issues. The more intense and physically demanding the hike, the more you are going to reap these physical benefits.
Digging a little deeper, hiking actually has significant and widespread emotional and psychological benefits that can be especially relevant in these difficult times.
There is a large amount of research connecting hiking, or generally being in nature, to reduced mental anxiety and depression. In fact, a study conducted by Stanford University found that people walking 90 minutes in a natural setting versus participants walking 90 minutes in an urban setting had decreased activity levels in the part of the brain associated with depression. This information also interestingly corroborates the knowledge that city-dwellers tend to be sadder than their rural or suburban counterparts.
Additionally, an article from the American Hiking Society notes that outdoor, “physical activity induces the release of endorphins which energizes your spirit making you feel happy”. During quarantine and Covid-19 where burnout, loneliness, and depression rates seem to be on the up and up, a quick hike outside might be your best medication.
On top of all that, sources show that hiking often correlates to improvements in relational health. We often hike with other people and spending time with others in the process often has positive contributions to relationships and increases the level of comfort that one feels with another. Even if you hike alone, the activity also tends to increase people’s appreciation for nature and conservation efforts. This fact alone is quite important, especially as global warming looms and the need for conservation efforts grows daily.
You got an hour, a couple hours, even a whole day? Take a hike, literally. There is plenty of data backing the many benefits of hiking and who knows, maybe you need it.