Hiking as a past time is fast becoming the physical exercise of choice for many because of the numerous health benefits that it offers. Imagine taking a long, powerful scenic walk along a lush nature trail, breathing in clean, fresh, aromatic air with the aim of improving your heart health and well-being. It’s a fabulous was to exercise!
However, hiking is not just about walking; research shows that there are numerous physical and psychological benefits that can be gained. Hiking can reduce the threat of heart disease, boost blood sugar levels, improve blood pressure, improve muscular strength in the upper body, thighs and legs, help to control weight loss, relaxes the mind and basically puts you in a good mood. The American Hiking Society said, “Research shows that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA but we sometimes forget that.”
The impact of hiking and exercise on one’s mental and physical health has been analyzed in various studies over the years and the results are typically the same; hiking outdoors benefits the heart and your mood! Participants were measured on the effect of thirty minutes of indoor exercise on a treadmill versus outdoor hiking. The results indicated that 90% of those who took a nature walk felt a boost in their self-esteem while 71% did not feel as depressed. Interestingly, only 45% of those who walked indoors had a mood lift. Subsequent research (via ten different studies) on over one thousand participants of varying genders, age and mental health status revealed that that two-thirds of the participants experienced an uplift in their mood and self-esteem after five minutes of “walking in nature and three-quarter of them felt “less depressed and anxious.” Depression not only affects your brain and behavior—it affects your entire body and has been linked with heart disease.
We live in a fast-paced world with so much happening around us; there are many stressors and distractions that can easily lead to anxiety and depression. While hiking and “green exercise” can help to alleviate these issues, these are activities that are on the “I’ll-get-to-it-soon” list for many people, they are just not priorities. Despite the health benefits, gadgets and electronics are taking us over; mobile phones, tablets, televisions, computer games and a host of others are competing heavily with “green exercise” and outdoor activity.
Green exercise, speaks to physical activity and exercise that takes place in outdoor spaces. This includes hiking, nature walks and scenic strolls in the wild outdoor. There is also good evidence that viewing, being in, and interacting with natural environments has positive effects, reducing stress and increasing the ability to cope with stress, reducing mental fatigue and improving concentration and increasing heart health.
Hands down, hiking and its effect on physical and psychologically health is well documented. The existing literature and the studies conducted over time reinforces the fact that hiking is good for the heart; relieves stress, anxiety and depression; relaxes the mind and body; encourages the growth and renewal of brain cells and generally improves the quality of life.
Of course, going a long hike on a beautiful wooded trail is going to provide the most benefit. However, even those who can’t get away on a hiking vacation to a gorgeous, green location can benefit by taking a break from the computer and going outdoors for a walk in the sun and fresh air. It’s good for your body, mind and your heart!