Physically, the benefits are numerous. Getting outside for even a short hike regularly can reduce your risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and help to prevent type II diabetes.
Hiking makes you strong. And it doesn't just work your legs. Clambering over uneven surfaces and navigating your way around rocks, fallen trees, across streams and over tree roots engages your core and works your upper body for a true functional body work out. But the physical benefits are almost incidental to how hiking can contribute to your overall mental health and wellbeing.
Health is more than cardio and strength conditioning, and in this time of global pandemics and subsequent variations in our ability to travel and do lots of remote exploring. We can still hike in our local areas and explore what nature has put out for us in our backyards. Here are ten reasons hiking is good for your soul and your wellbeing
1. Hiking clears the mind and reduces stress Our lives have changed over the last two years with working from home, home schooling, not so much the social calendars we once had. But there is still the everyday life admin and added stressors which are enough to keep us at a permanent level of stress below the surface. Going for a hike reduces your blood pressure and cortisol levels producing a calming effect only nature can offer - over an above the benefits of exercise alone.
2. Hiking makes us happier Getting out into nature decreases what psychologists call 'rumination', which are negative thought patterns that play over and over in our heads such as dwelling on embarrassing or disappointing moments or thinking about everything we think is wrong with our lives. Never underestimate the 'happiness effect' of being outdoors.
3. 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!
4. Improve your memory through hiking Studies have shown that people who regularly spend time in natural settings, hiking or otherwise, have improved memory and recollection. So if you're rubbish at sudoku like me, just grab your boots and hit the track!
5. Hiking reduces anxiety and depression Associated with the benefits of lowering stress levels, hiking has been proven to reduce anxiety by quietening the mind and allowing you to zone in on your breathing to a part meditative state. For natural stress relief and an instant mood boost, head outdoors.
6. Got a problem to solve? Go for a hike Researchers believe that all the extra mental stimulus and information bombardment we are faced with daily overwhelms our brains resulting in reductions in our cognitive resources, limiting our creativity and problem solving abilities. Getting out into nature away from these stimuli restores our depleted attention circuits, freeing up more brain power for creativity (so leave the gadgets at home!).
7. Hiking makes us more generous Whenever we hike tracks or trails for the first time, or stumble upon an absolute gem of a natural feature, we always return home with a renewed appreciation for mother nature and her bounty. The corresponding increases in positive emotions actually makes us feel a heightened sense of gratefulness and increases our generosity towards those around us.
8. Reconnect and take time for yourself When you find yourself caught up in the race, going for a hike is a chance to reflect, recharge and reconnect with yourself when you've been too busy to take notice. Sometimes just taking some time out and tuning into yourself can help you identify if you're feeling a little under the weather, or have been more stressed than usual.
9. Hiking with friends Hiking alone can be a spiritual and rejuvenating experience, but hiking with friends and sharing the experience can bring you closer together to form stronger bonds and create lasting memories.
10. 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.
Challenge yourself and make it a goal for the rest of the year to go for one hike a day. It can be 30 minutes or 3 hours. Your soul will thank you for it.