Hiking is fast becoming the physical exercise of choice thanks to the numerous health benefits that it offers. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about walking! Research shows that there are numerous heart, body, and mind benefits that can be gained from regular hiking outdoors, including:
- Reduced threat of heart disease
- Boosted blood sugar levels
- Improved blood pressure
- Improved muscular strength in the upper body, thighs, and legs
- Weight loss
- Improved mood
In fact, the American Hiking Society‘s president, Dr. Gregory A. Miller, further reinforced these points by explaining that, “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! In one study participants were measured on the effect of 30 minutes of indoor exercise on a treadmill versus outdoor hiking. The results indicated that 90 percent of those who took a nature walk felt a boost in their self-esteem while 71 percent did not feel as depressed. Interestingly, only 45 percent of those who walked indoors had a mood lift. Subsequent research (via ten different studies) on over 1,000 participants of varying genders, age, and mental health status revealed that two-thirds of the participants experienced an uplift in their mood and self-esteem after just five minutes of walking in nature and three-quarters of them felt less depressed and anxious. Depression not only affects your brain and behavior—it affects your entire body and has even been linked with heart disease.
Another angle to consider is the effect of hiking and exercise on the functions of the brain. In research conducted by the University of Georgia’s Department of Kinesiology, at least twenty minutes of outdoor exercise can enhance brain activity and memory functions. Activity based exercises like hiking increase the heart rate, which in turn pumps more oxygen to the brain and releases hormones that encourage the growth of brain cells. Hiking also stimulates the cortical sections of the brain by facilitating the development of new connections between cells.
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, in today’s busy world we don’t always have the time! 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 heart, body, and mind!