Take a Hike! 5 Benefits of Hiking

Article posted in: Fitness

With 10,234 state parks and over 400 national parks, there are thousands of opportunities for you to get out and go hiking—and that’s just in the United States alone, according to the National Association of State Park Directors and National Park Service. Whether it’s a weekend trip through the mountains of Acadia National Park in Maine or a short walk through the redwoods of Muir Woods in California, hiking provides mental, physical and physiological benefits. Plus, if it’s cold right now where you live, a hiking trip with your loved ones in sunny New Mexico or Florida could be just the escape you’ve been longing for.

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Here are five reasons to get outside and take a hike!:

1. Get Your Vitamin D

vitamin D

Whenever you spend time outdoors during the day, you’re exposed to ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun, says The New York Times. This is what the body uses to produce Vitamin D. Unlike other vitamins, Vitamin D may have protective effects against osteoporosis, cancer, depression, heart attack and stroke, says Harvard Health.

According to Medical News Today, you can obtain significant amounts of Vitamin D from foods like salmon, eggs and liver. However, it’s much more enjoyable to spend just 10-15 minutes in the sunshine (two to three times per week), as recommended by Harvard Health. This can help provide what your body needs to build healthy bones and teeth, support the immune, brain and nervous system, regulate insulin and more, explains Medical News Today. If you’re spending prolonged periods of time in the great outdoors, however, wear sunscreen and stay hydrated.

2. Get a Mood Boost


Light seems to have a direct, positive correlation with mood and physical activity and has been shown to calm and cheer people up, says Harvard Health. Combine light exposure with exercise on a hike and you’ll leave the woods feeling pretty darn good.

Researchers in a 2011 study published in Environmental Science & Technology were able to determine that people are happier when they exercise outdoors. Exercising in natural environments was “associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, depression and increased energy” as opposed to exercising indoors. While the researchers were unable to determine if the environment had any impact on long-term exercise adherence, all subjects who exercised outdoors reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction and proclaimed a greater intent to do it again.

3. Get Inspired


Even though technology makes working easier, our obsession with our phones, tablets, smart watches and computers does not help our creativity. According to a 2012 study by the University of Utah, hikers scored 50 percent better on a creativity test following four days of backpacking in nature away from their devices, says Science Daily. Technology constantly takes over our attention, whether we receive a notification, text, call or alert. “By contrast,” say the researchers, “natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.” Add 30 minutes of hiking to your routine to check off your daily fitness requirement on the South Beach Diet.

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4. Get a Better Workout


Picture yourself on a wooded trail that follows a gentle brook (You’re feeling calmer already aren’t you?). All along the path are rocks that were once part of the streambed. It’s easy to put on tennis shoes and walk around a paved or synthetic rubber track. However, it takes concentration and focus to navigate from rock-to-rock and the challenge of that exercise can strengthen our hips, knees, ankles and core. In fact, hiking on uneven terrain increases the amount of energy your body uses by 28 percent compared to walking on flat ground, says research from a 2013 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. It can also help you improve your balance, which can prevent falls and injury as we age.

5. Get Social


Whether it’s with your spouse, your best friend or a new workout buddy, hiking is a terrific partner activity. According to a study by the University of Aberdeen, having an emotionally supportive fitness friend has been shown to increase the amount that people exercise, says Science Daily. It’s also safer to hike with a buddy, especially if you’re tackling particularly challenging or rural trails.

*Always speak with a doctor before starting an exercise routine.