I like to think of hiking as that friend who constantly challenges and pushes you, but is still super nice and relaxed and always leaves you feeling fantastic after spending time with them!
You know, that annoyingly overachieving friend, who is always dressed perfectly and got the best ‘all-rounder’ award at high school?
I’m obviously playing, but the point I’m trying to make is that hiking is not just a really long walk, but is an all-rounded physical, mental and spiritual activity that can leave you feeling really really GOOOOOOOD!
Below are, in my opinion, the top 4 benefits of hiking:
1. Hiking is a great physical workout
The obvious first benefit of hiking is the physical gains. Just one hour of hiking can burn up to 500 calories, especially if you’re climbing hills and wearing a loaded pack. Rather than the flat, consistent ground of asphalt or god-forbid, the treadmill, the uneven terrain of the great outdoors really challenges your whole body. The muscle groups stimulated during a good hike include quadriceps, hamstrings, and our lower leg and hip muscles – and hiking with a backpack is an excellent boost to core strength. Plus, walking is a weight-bearing exercise, so it helps to build bone density.
2. Hiking can improve mental health
There’s plenty of evidence that hiking can actively improve our overall mental health, and it’s been increasingly prescribed as a cure for mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It also provides the opportunity to escape rumination, which is defined by psychologists as a repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self. Examples of rumination include spending lots of time thinking back over embarrassing or disappointing moments or rehashing things you’ve recently said or done.
Researchers have found that by taking yourself on a nature hike, you can reduce rumination and blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That might be a little too ‘science-y’ for you, but it basically means that;
Hiking doesn’t just perk you up a bit, it actually changes the way your brain works and draws focus away from negative, repetitive thought.
I certainly know that I always experience an incredible high when I go hiking, and I feel like my whole body is glowing from the inside out!
3. Hiking boosts creativity
Engaging in regular hiking can make us more creative. I know that might seem like a rather wishy-washy statement, but stay with me because there’s actually a fair amount of evidence to corroborate this claim.
One of the biggest things that hinder our creative progress and mind power is our attention spans – in the modern world, we are near constantly distracted by the ‘ping ping’ of our phones, emails, and now even our bloody watches are screaming ‘PAY ME ATTENTION’!
Research by Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that spending time outdoors increases our ability to focus, our attention spans, and our problem-solving skills by up to 50 percent. Now I’m not suggesting you can strap on your walking boots for a few hours and then come home to write a novel in time for tea, but it’s certainly a profound piece of research and just another fabulous benefit of hiking.
4. Hiking can help to get you off the tech
Here’s a scary stat for you, if trends remain the same, the average adult will spend a staggering five years and four months of their life on social media. Linking pretty much directly to the point above, spending time off the tech can do wonders for our mental health, allowing us to disconnect from the ‘fake’ world, and reconnect with the ‘real’ world
Side note: It always makes me smile when people on my tours say things like ‘back to the real world tomorrow, and I’m looking around at the beautiful nature and thinking ‘Buddyyyy, this is the real world’.
But just putting your phone down isn’t always easy, especially when society these days’ relies so much on it. Luckily for us, Australia is so vast that we simply cannot provide mobile reception everywhere, and many of my tours take us into delightful little reception-free areas. Without the distraction I was speaking of earlier, we can be completely present, and really, properly, enjoy the moment!
Hiking is one of the most well-rounded activities you can do. I’ve only mentioned four benefits here, but there are many many more.