Guest post by Mitch Stevens from Southwest Discoveries
Are you finding it difficult to get motivated about exercise? Does sweating at the gym seem less than appealing? Then hiking is your solution! What are the benefits of hiking?People who hike on a regular basis enjoy better overall health, markedly less stress and are more energetic in general. All you need to do is start with one of these 15 tips today and reap the rewards!
Benefit One – Improve Your Overall Health and Be Fit!
If you maintain a regular hiking program you’ll not only feel great when you hit the trail but you’ll enjoy optimum fitness. The better your condition, the more you’ll enjoy the hiking experience. No matter whether you’ve considered dabbling in the world of hiking, or if you’re an avid hiker who frequently takes a step back to appreciate the world around you, you can appreciate the health benefits of hiking.
Tip One: Start slowly
Remember to start slowly! This is especially important if you are just getting back into shape. If you are hiking to get in shape, start out with a couple of 10 minute walks in the day and add a few minutes every few days. Plan on going on a more strenuous walk once every weekend. For added protection, you can equip yourself with a medical alert device in the event of a fall. If you are in good shape already, start walking more throughout your day and plan day hikes in your area.
To kick-start your hiking program, carve out at least 30 minutes three to four days per week for hiking. You can increase your frequency later on but just 150 minutes of hiking per week will reap the benefits of hiking exercise. A recent study by the American Heart Association determined that low impact exercises such as hiking can lower your health risks as much as running:
Invest in a sturdy pair of hiking boots and do your research first. Scout out the best places to hike and exercise. Whether you reside in Boulder, Colorado or New York City, there are trails, parks and recreation areas to suit all needs and preferences. Gradually work up to trails with hills or uneven terrain. Then you can gradually start walking farther with heavier loads.
Benefit Two: Decrease Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease!
New studies show that walking or hiking for an hour a day, five days a week, can cut a person’s risk of stroke in half. Walking conditions the heart and is an excellent way to get outdoors and may help you live longer. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, including hiking at your personal fitness level, is safe for most people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Consistent aerobic exercise, hiking included, helps increase your HDL levels, the good cholesterol, and lowers your triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels; the harmful components. Thus, your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure is reduced. Take a hike to help keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
Tip Two – Use poles
The physical benefits of hiking are increased by utilizing trekking. The benefits of hiking poles are that not only do they reduce wear and tear on your joints, but digging into the ground and propelling yourself forward pushes your upper body muscles to work harder and gives you’re a better cardio workout. Thus, you’ll lose more weight and you will reap substantial health benefits such as a reduced risk of heart disease.
Poles also reduce the risk of falling, whether hiking up or downhill. It is a good idea to adjust your poles length so that your elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle when hiking uphill or on fairly flat land. When you take a step, plant the pole in the opposite hand behind your trailing foot. With this method you’ll be pushing off each time you plant a pole.
On downhill stretches of any duration, lengthen the poles somewhat and plant the poles out in front of you. For an effective technique when hiking downhill, I utilize the “banister technique.” This method greatly reduces stress on your knees and joints when descending. Enjoy this brief narrated video!
Benefit Three – Be Happy!
Hikers are happier. A walk through a stunning landscape not only calms your nerves but improves your spirits and can help people with severe depression. Being in the majesty of nature, free from the pressures of our everyday lives and technology works wonders for stress relief.
For example, on a late afternoon jaunt at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, one can admire the view. Recent rains green up the springtime desert and afford crystal clear views of the Rincons, Santa Catalina, Santa Rita, Baboquivari and Tucson mountain ranges that surround the area. Saguaro National Park offers just one of many great hikes in Tucson, which serves up some of the best hiking in the world!
As you gaze at towering saguaros, lush green desert and the beautiful sky island mountain ranges in the distance, you will understand what hiking is all about and why it is good for the soul!
Turn up your speakers and enjoy this music video called Sacred Place in the Wilderness. It highlights the magnificent National Parks and wild lands of the West!
Tip three: Hike with a friend or with a group
While hiking alone is a spiritually renewing and enjoyable experience, trekking can be as social as you like. Moreover, hiking with a friend or a group offers the same soothing feeling and is an excellent opportunity to socialize and exchange ideas with others.
Hiking with a group can feel more like entertainment than exercise and is a great excuse to meet new people. Most every city and town has hiking Meetup groups. These are very active social hiking groups full of diverse people who enjoy hiking with others. Some of the advantages of groups are camaraderie, safety and having a lot of fun out on the trails!
Benefit Four – Prevent Diabetes!
Hiking benefits include reducing your blood sugar levels. This helps you reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Hiking works your muscles, which transfers glucose from your bloodstream for energy. But if you already have diabetes, it is crucial that you talk to your doctor first! Your practitioner may need to adjust your diabetes medications.
Tip Four: Bump it up
Hiking trails offer uneven terrain which will work muscles while improving balance and stability. You can even head off trail for some of your hike as your body becomes more conditioned to rough terrain. This will increase your health benefits exponentially.
Diabetes is one of the leading causes of mortality in the United States. “Walking is one of the best types of ‘medicine’ we have to help prevent diabetes, or reduce its severity and potential complications—such as heart attack and stroke—if you already have it,” says Joann Manson, MD, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Women who did at least 30 minutes daily of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, slashed their risk of diabetes by 30%, found the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study.
Benefit Five – Increase Your Energy Level!
Aerobic activities, such as hiking, provide oxygen and fuel to your muscles, and other body tissues. This extra fuel helps strengthen your muscles and lungs and increases your alertness, and energy and endurance levels too!
Tip five: Head for the hills
Hiking uphill will intensify your heart rate, burn extra calories and increase your oxygen levels. According to Gregory A. Miller, PhD, president of the American Hiking Club, “Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that.” Miller says a 5% to 10% incline equals a 30% to 40% increase in calorie burn.
Find a park or an area with hills or mountains and your hiking workout will be even more effective! If you combine elevation gain with stepping up your pace, you’ll gain further benefits. Hike at a pace where you can still carry on a conversation to avoid over doing it. Take frequent and short breaks if necessary.
Benefit Six – Lose Weight!
One of the many hiking health benefits includes weight management. It is one of the best methods to burn calories and lose unwanted pounds! By maintaining a consistent and enjoyable hiking program, you will keep your weight under control.
In fact, numerous studies have proved that hiking can burn more than 370 calories per hour. It is best to start slowly and work up your hiking duration to approximately forty five minutes daily at a pace of 2.5 miles an hour.
Tip Six – Hike with weight in your pack
According to some studies, a 10- to 15-pound day pack will boost your calorie burn by 10% to 15% while strengthening your lower back muscles. Especially when training for a strenuous hike, work up to it by training with extra weight in your pack. Start off with ten pounds, and then slowly increase the weight in your pack incrementally on a weekly or bi-monthly basis until you reach about thirty to forty pounds.
This is especially effective if you’re training for a big hike such as backpacking in the Grand Canyon. For more hiking pointers, see Getting Ready for Desert Hiking:
Benefit Seven – Increase Your Bone Density!
Strong bones are essential to your overall health. Hiking regularly will decrease your chances of developing osteoporosis and arthritis. If you have arthritis, studies have shown that 150 minutes of hiking per week will maintain flexibility in your joints and decrease joint stiffness.
Tip Seven – Get into a groove
On the days you can’t hike, you can power-walk on just about any terrain while carrying various degrees of weight in a backpack. This will keep your hiking skills and fitness level on track while you maintain a regular exercise program. Like hiking, this is an easy, safe and inexpensive way to achieve great physical fitness.
Other activities to consider when you can’t hit the trail are treadmill walking, elliptical training, cycling, dancing, Pilates, martial arts – the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Benefit Eight – Lower Your Cancer Risk!
Like any regular exercise, hiking benefits include lowering your cancer risk. Hiking helps prevent and fight certain cancers such as breast and colon cancer. Hiking will decrease your chance of developing lung and other forms of cancer. Overall, hiking can help manage some of your other cancer risk factors.
Tip Eight – Increase your endurance
It is best to hike at a steady rate, especially when going uphill. It’s important not to push yourself and take frequent, short breaks. Because hiking is an endurance sport, sustain a pace that you can maintain. If you push yourself too hard, you will become fatigued.
On steep ascents, stop for a 30 second breather when you require it. Brief stops can provide a surprising degree of physical recovery. Break up a big day mentally into a series of shorter hikes, identifying where you’ll take rest breaks, to make the total distance feel more manageable. You don’t have to follow a rigid schedule, but having some idea of when you want to reach key spots along the way will prevent a much later finish than hoped for.
Take a ten-minute break every hour and elevate your legs over your heart. This will help alleviate fatigue in your legs and pump toxins out of your body. Manage your rest time wisely; you can only push your pace so much.
Benefit Nine – Relief from Back Pain!
Sitting at a computer or desk too long can cause back pain. People who walk commonly report significant decreases in back pain. Hiking puts much less stress on your body than running or aerobics and helps build core body strength.
Tip Nine – Core training
Core fitness workouts are important for strength, endurance, balance, and stability. It is critical to feeling strong throughout a long hike or run. A strong core helps your body carry a pack—even a light hydration or day pack—conserving energy in the large muscles of your legs to forestall fatigue, and avoid back pain or muscular injuries.
Core training doesn’t require a huge daily time commitment to achieve noticeable results. Three to five days a week, try exercises such as planks and slow bicycle crunches. These are great for strengthening. If you work out in a gym, you can incorporate these exercises into your resistance workout. Fifteen minutes of core work at a time is sufficient.
Benefit Ten – Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D!
Where to get vitamin D? Get more vitamin D by taking a hike of course! Vitamin D is a critical nutrient needed to keep your muscles and bones strong and to promote overall good health. Although some vitamin D is available in foods, one of the best sources is the sun. So get out there and take a hike for better health!
Tip Ten –Best time for sun exposure
Ten to fifteen minutes of sunshine three times weekly is enough to produce your body’s requirement of Vitamin D. The sun needs to shine on the skin of your face, arms, back, or legs (without sunscreen).
Because exposure to sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer, use caution. Consider your location when deciding your best time for sun exposure. It is best to avoid the direct sunlight between the hours of 11am to 2pm.
Benefit Eleven – Hiking is good for your brain!
According to a study published in Proceedings, an online medical journal of the National Academy of Sciences, hiking outdoors is great for the brain. In the experiment, a group of middle-aged people were asked to take three 40 minute walks a week for a year. At the end of the 12 month period, MRI scans verified that their hippocampus grew an average of 2 percent. Typically, as people age, their hippocampus becomes smaller, leading to memory loss.
But preventing such shrinkage could improve a person’s memory for years! Moreover, there have been many other recent reports regarding how being in the outdoors reaps huge benefits. Other conditions alleviated include stress, depression, anger and aggressiveness. In fact, our mental health in general is significantly improved by being in a natural environment.
An Iraq veteran who suffers from PTSD and related symptoms like agoraphobia, severe depression and anxiety, attested to the many mental health benefits of hiking. “I find the getting away from everything for just a short while, very beneficial but it goes hand and hand with treatment. I am also introduced to the outside in a somewhat controlled environment. The quietness in which to meditate and do a little soul searching for the guy I used to be. “
So what are we waiting for?
Tip Eleven – Resistance exercises
The type of exercise program that will benefit your brain is identical to the one that will benefit the rest of your body. Ideally, you’d want to strive for a comprehensive routine that includes high-intensity interval exercise, strength training, core work, and regular intermittent movement to avoid the hazards associated with prolonged sitting.
Postpone muscle fatigue during your hike with resistance exercise, lifting weights or doing body-weight exercises such as squats, push-ups, dips, and pull-ups strengthens muscles. These exercises provide you power for ascending with a pack on. Do resistance exercises two or three times a week for an hour, developing a routine that targets all of the major muscles.
In the gym, do at least two exercises focused on the legs. Leg lifts and hamstring pulls are excellent ways to increase strength. Your sets should be long enough to temporarily cause you to breathe hard. Body-weight exercises can be done in succession without a break in between. For example, 20 squats and 20 lunges back to back are effective.
Benefit Twelve – Expand Your Mind, Visit New Places!
Hiking is a great excuse for visiting new places which is great for creating excitement, avoiding boredom and opening new synopsis’ in the brain. Instead of planning an ordinary vacation, take part in a grand adventure tour! American adventure trips can encompass snow-capped mountains, spectacular canyons, fascinating deserts and verdant forests.
From the gorgeous ocean scenery at Arcadia National Park, to the forests of the Smoky Mountains, the grandeur of Rocky Mountain National Park and a spectacular Grand Canyon hike, there is something for everyone in our wilderness lands. A walking tour in our National Parks and wilderness areas offer thousands of trails across millions of acres of public land. Striking vistas will delight nature lovers.
Tip Twelve – Go light
Keep your pack as light as possible. Carrying a heavy pack takes a toll on the body and discourages you from hiking far. Going ultralight allows you to greatly expand your options on the trail. Carrying a light day pack will enable you to see more, walk more and you’ll have energy to explore more if you wish. How can you lighten your load? Compare your usual gear selection with the items on this packing checklist.
Checklist for Hiking Trips
Benefit Thirteen – Tones Your Muscles!
Since hiking can include steep inclines, it is perfect for putting your body to the test and for toning your muscles. With brisk movements and a steady pace, you can get a full body workout. Remember to stretch before and after a vigorous hike, so that your hamstrings, glutes and quads are toned. The dynamic stretching of yoga can be very beneficial for hikers.
Tip Thirteen – Yoga
Daily stretching or yoga will provide your muscles greater range of motion and more strength. Yoga loosens you and allows you to engage the full range of motion in your muscles. This alleviates the tightness associates with carrying a pack on an all day trek.
An example of a great yoga position is the inverted pigeon. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep your feet flat on the ground and put your right ankle over your left knee. Slide your right arm through the space made by your legs and clasp hands beneath your left thigh. Gently move your knee straight in towards your chest. Hold this pose for five seconds.
Other good yoga moves are the various tree poses and lunges. Research these online for instructions and examples. You may even want to join a yoga class for more motivation and ideas!
Benefit Fourteen – Hiking Slows Aging!
Hiking and trekking are not only fun, they help slow the aging process. In addition to bringing clarity to the mind and vibrancy to the soul, hiking will help reduce your mortality risk.
Research indicates that what was once accepted as a foregone conclusion that aging will diminish your physical and mental capabilities is not true. An article in the American Journal of Public Heath conducted a study regarding mortality risk and moderate exercise such as hiking. They tested two groups of middle aged men, one active and one sedentary, during a 23 year time period. Their conclusion, the inactive group lost 41 percent of their aerobic ability while the exercisers lost only 13%.
The take away here is that aging doesn’t decrease our ability to be healthy and active. But leading a sedentary lifestyle will accelerate the aging process. Yet another excuse to hit the trails!
Tip Fourteen – Step carefully and take small steps
While hiking prolonged steep downhill stretches, a great technique is to make your own little switchbacks in the trail. In other words, walking in a straight path downhill can exert a lot of pressure on your knees and other joints. To less that impact, zigzag slightly down the trail. You can create your own tiny switchbacks in the trail, assuming that you land your feet at an angle to the fall line rather than stepping straight down. It will take a little practice to get the hang of this but you’ll reap significant reward once you grasp this technique.
Moreover, choose your steps carefully. Don’t commit your weight onto small rocks, which tend to be unstable and may move, taking you with it. Only apply weight to stable, comparably flat rocks when hiking downhill. Not only will this reduce the risk of a fall, but the flat rocks will act as natural breaks for your body. This will lessen muscle strain and soreness at the end of the day when hiking in Grand Canyon for instance.
While a long stride will work well on a flat trail, when ascending or descending a much more effective strategy is to take shorter steps. If you bend your knees at shallow angle as opposed to taking big steps up or down, your joints and large muscles will thank you at the end of the day! You’ll work less hard by taking more steps, shortening your stride and lessening the impact on your knees.
Moreover, another benefit to this method when hiking downhill is that you’ll be less likely to slip and fall. When you strike each foot more directly below your center of gravity, rather an ahead of you, you’ll be more stable. In fact, most falls occur when hiking downhill. This is because when we hike uphill, we land with each foot almost directly below our body which is a balance position. But when descending, we tend to land with our feet that is out in front of our body. This can cause your body to become off-balanced.
Benefit Fifteen- Develop Healthy Lifetime Habits!
Another compelling reason to hike is a markedly improved quality of life. Each time you hike, breathe the outside air, exert and challenge yourself but stay within your capabilities, you will come away feeling better than you did. Your body and mind will feel healthier and your stress level will drop off. Because of this great feeling, you’ll want to hike again. The sport may even become addictive!
As you notice improvements in your mind and body, you may adopt other healthy habits such as eating healthful foods or practicing meditation.
Tip Fifteen – Drink plenty of water and dress for hiking
Hydrate often which helps prevent muscle soreness and the effects of the hot sun and high elevations. For example, when hiking the Grand Canyon, make it a habit to drink every 15 to 20 minutes. For strenuous hikes, mix an electrolyte such as Emergen C (http://www.emergenc.com/) in a liter of water.
Drink this quite liberally, especially in the afternoon. By doing this, it’ll insure that you will not develop muscle cramps during your hike. By implementing this strategy and staying hydrated, you’ll be amazed at how much better you will feel!
Invest in lightweight hiking clothes. A wide brim hat and long sleeve shirt and long pants is highly recommended See What to Wear While Hiking http://southwestdiscoveries.com/what-to-wear-while-hiking-in-the-desert-and-mountains/
Wrapping it All Up
We talked about how hiking is one of the best forms of exercise and spiritual renewal a person can have. We’ve also shown how a steady hiking program will not only get you in awesome shape but it can provide many ways to stay healthy and avoid illness. The physical health benefits of hiking are enormous!
So get started on your hiking plan today and kick start your journey to longevity!
Here’s to your health