Research recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week for adults. Surrounded by the Swiss mountains, it’s no surprise we love the awe-inspiring wonder that hiking provides. But wherever you live, pick up your phone and Google ‘Hiking trails near me’. Lace up, prepare – and explore.
There’s a world out there waiting for you. And the benefits of hiking are almost beyond compare.
Hike. Your brain will thank you.
Regular exercise has long been linked with enhanced mental health. But the scientific community has now dug even deeper. It has found that outdoor exercise – particularly in ‘green’ areas – has a range of different benefits.
A study in 2015, for example, found that a 90-minute walk through a natural environment, rather than an urban area, lowered “levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness”.
In the same year, researchers also found that experiencing nature decreases anxiety while simultaneously improving aspects of cognitive function – including working memory. Five years earlier, so-called ‘green exercise’ was found to improve “self-esteem and mood irrespective of duration, intensity, location, gender, age and health status”.
Hiking works every muscle group.
Whether you’re a beginner setting out on a short first trail or a seasoned hiker eyeing up a three-day trek, a hiking workout is a true all-rounder. Quads, glutes, hamstrings – they’re all going to feel it. Your core will strengthen too, getting tested with every step on uneven surfaces as your torso reacts to keep your balance.
Climbing and descending works many more muscle groups than simply moving on the flat. So a hike in the hills is even more beneficial than a stroll around the streets.
Hiking delivers all-round health benefits.
Yes, your legs will get stronger. You’ll experience a cross-training workout that’s almost impossible to replicate in the gym. And you’ll get to do it all while experiencing the great outdoors.
But it’s the hidden benefits of hiking that are most striking. Lower stress levels? Check. Reduced risk of heart disease? Check. Lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower body fat? Check. Check. And check.
You’ll also benefit from increased flexibility, improved bone density and an improved mood. Seriously, it’s time to start looking for your nearest hiking trails.
Hiking can improve your race performance.
Make the effort to get out in the hills. And the higher the better – especially if you’ve got one eye on a competitive race and hiking is part of your training regime. Climb above 4,000 feet and the oxygen starts to thin out. That means your body gets used to getting by with less oxygen – which can have a big impact on your competitive performance.
A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found two high-altitude sessions per week for six weeks increased the time it took for male endurance runners to fatigue by 35%. In contrast, those who completed two sea-level sessions per week for six weeks saw an increase of just 10%. Looking for a competitive edge? Consistent hiking might just be it.
Hike away those calories
Depending on all the usual factors – your weight, walking speed, inclines, etc. – a typical adult can expect to burn up to 600 calories per hour of hiking. Plan a four-hour trek and you can see how the calories are going to rapidly mount up.
Going uphill, the calories will burn away even quicker. Experiencing just a 5%-10% incline can increase calorie burn by 30% to 40%.
Even on a relatively flat route, there are simple tricks to keep your calorie burn consistently high. Buy a decent backpack and carry a liter or two of water. The extra weight will add to your burden and fuel bigger calorie losses.
Hiking for the views.
If you can find an accessible gym with the same views as a good hike, go for it. But we bet you can’t. Stunning mountains, idyllic valleys, running water and breathtaking vistas: they’re all just bog-standard fare for most hikes.
So, we ask again: why on earth wouldn’t you hike?
It’s time to hike.
If you’ve written off hiking as a gentle pastime for later life, it’s time to think again. Head for the hills and you’ll shed calories, anxieties and underdeveloped muscles. You’ll come home feeling renewed. You’ll have completed a cross-training session even the most determined PT would struggle to contrive. You’ll have improved your health, improved your competitive performance and improved your mental wellbeing. And you’ll have done it all with the added luxury of some truly glorious views.
Start planning your next hiking trail today. Get out there.