Physiological and Psychological Benefits of Hiking
Spending time outdoors comes with a lot of perks. If you add that with physical activity from simple walking to a more intense hiking, the benefits also multiply. The true benefits of hiking go beyond the simple pleasures of breathing fresh clean air and enjoying views of the nature; this activity is associated with a boost of physical fitness and therapeutic effects for the mind as well.
Physiological Benefits of Hiking
Let us start with the most easily observed ones, the positive impacts on health. Hiking is just like walking, but the terrain and elevation will make the body work much harder than when you are strolling in the park. Depending on the length or size of area to explore, hiking can be a powerful cardio exercise with all range of positive effects on your body including but not limited to:
- Improving the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar level and blood pressure
- Lowering risk of cardiovascular diseases
- Increasing bone density (a benefit of hiking similar to that of walking as both are weight-bearing exercise)
- Improving balance
- Strengthening core muscles
- Maintaining healthy body weight
You gain all those benefits even if you only do easy-to-moderate hiking with no steep inclines or hills and in short distance.
Improvements in Physical Functioning
Outdoor walking groups have been found to introduce significant improvement in various factors widely used as measures of health, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study found reductions in body fat, BMI, total cholesterol level, and resting heart rate. It also observed increases in VO2 Max, and overall quality of life for physical functioning. Bear in mind that these benefits were associated with outdoor walking groups which are almost exactly similar to easy hiking.
Decrease in Fatigue and Anxiety
A randomized crossover design of 42 health participants found that mountain hiking delivered much more effective effect in decreasing fatigue and anxiety, compared to both indoor treadmill walking. The outdoor activity also showed a considerable improvement in affective valence, elation, and calmness. The study further suggested that mountain hiking be recommended by health professionals as a form of physical activity intervention to improve affective responses.
Among all the benefits of hiking, stress mitigation is most likely the effect that even the most casual hiker looks for and immediately gets. Some small studies show spending time in natural preserves, urban parks, woodlands, and any green space may help people ease their stress level. Since it has been established that stress can negatively affect health, any physical activity that has the potential to mitigate stress would be helpful.
The great thing about hiking is that you can do this just about anywhere. You don’t actually have to climb hills and mountains to get the benefits of hiking because any activity that involves walking for about 3 miles or so can be considered easy-hiking. With that in mind, everyone regardless of age can find a hike with the proper difficulty level to improve physical fitness and enjoy nature-induced relaxation at the same time.
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