There’s something special about moderately paced movement through nature that leaves one feeling refreshed, renewed, and satisfied. Because of that, hiking is rarely considered a sport in the same way as trail running or mountain biking, both of which are more acutely painful and taxing on the body. And yet recent studies show that a walk in the woods—especially at the right tempo—is a superb way to build endurance and strength.
Hiking is worlds apart from walking
On the surface, hiking and walking may seem like super similar exercises because the body mechanics are basically the same. But what happens inside of you during these two distinct activities — in your muscles, joints, and heart — is worlds apart.
While walking on flat terrain requires little effort — it’s one foot in front of the other — walking on uneven terrain is a dynamic workout that increases your heart rate and metabolic rate, causing calories to burn faster.
Your Legs Will Never Look Better
Most hikes involve climbing up a big hill or even a mountain, then coming back down, a combo that’s a great workout for your legs. Trekking up a mountain is a lot like climbing the stairclimber or doing lunges over and over, which strengthens your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. But traveling downhill is what really leaves your legs sore. To go downhill, your glutes and quads need to do a lot of slow, controlled work to stabilize your knees and hips so you don’t fall. These types of contractions [called eccentric contractions; the same kind your muscles experience when you slowly lower a weight at the gym] damage muscle fibers the most because you’re resisting the force of gravity against weight, which in this case is the weight of your body. This means that while you probably won’t huff and puff on the descent, your muscles aren’t getting a second to slack.
Strengthen your core
If you’re looking to tone your body and get back in shape, hiking is a great way to do so. All the walking through uneven terrain requires you to constantly engage your core area, which will help develop stronger abs and obliques. Want an extra challenge for your core? Try carrying a backpack while you hike.
Commune with nature
Sick of sitting in the office? Tired of staring at screens all day? Hiking in open spaces allows you to truly unplug from the world for a moment and take a welcome break. It gets you out of the house and back to the wilderness, allowing you to connect with yourself and nature again.
Research shows that hiking can significantly improve your mind and increase your happiness levels. A walk in nature helps fight against the symptoms of mental health issues such as stress and anxiety. Think about going for a hike next time you need to lift your spirits.
Hiking improves sleep quality
Walking or climbing over uneven terrain uses 28% more energy than walking over flat ground. You are also removing all the new age stimuli that we often expose ourselves to throughout the day and right before bedtime (phones, computers, TV’s and the like). The result? Better sleep!
Learn to live in the moment
When was the last time you really concentrated on being truly present and in the moment? The beautiful simplicity of getting out into nature removes that barrier between you and the natural environment. Everything is up close and real. No filters, just nature.