If you’re in front of a computer or smart phone reading this, you’re clearly doing a poor job of celebrating National Take A Hike Day!
Established by the American Hiking Society, Take a Hike day aims to encourage families, friends, and individuals to get away from their routines and experience nature while improving health. The time spent outside promotes feelings of happiness and a sense of well-being, while burning calories and strengthening our bodies. As a bonus, we get to use that expensive GORE-TEX and fleece clothing tucked away in the back of the closet.
It’s Really Just Walking, but on Rougher Terrain
Unlike jogging or running, with hiking one foot is always on the ground, meaning less impact on joints and fewer risks of injury. But unlike walking on sidewalks or treadmills, hiking takes you into nature, on uneven ground, often up and down hills and mountains. And the benefits of the whole experience are more numerous than one might expect.
Let’s Start with Weight Loss
A hiker weighing 160 pounds, can burn nearly 450 calories in an hour. At 200 pounds, one can expect to burn up to 550 calories. Add a lightweight backpack to increase the calorie burn by 50-100 each hour! The hourly burn rate may seem low, compared to running or jogging. But hiking for many is a full day activity. Spending more time on the trail and burning more calories than you might in a shorter run.
And the benefits continue long after you finish the trail. Those who hike at higher intensities for at least 45 minutes, will continue to burn calories the rest of the day. In fact, a strenuous hike increases your metabolism, causing calorie burn to continue for as long as 14 hours!
Want to boost the weight loss potential even more? Head for the mountains! Research indicates elevation contributes to weight loss. The thinner air of altitude is believed to be a contributing factor, as your body releases more leptin, a hormone that’s known to curb appetite, when exposed to lower oxygen levels.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
And the good news is, hiking downhill, while it might seem easier, is twice as effective at removing blood sugars and improving glucose tolerance. This could be great news for diabetics or others with blood sugar and glucose-related difficulties. Cool, right? Both up and downhill hiking help to reduce cholesterol levels.
A Full Body Workout
Hiking may also help to strengthen parts of your legs that aren’t used so much for running or walking on level ground. The up, down, left, right motion of hiking engages and strengthens more tendons in your knees and feet. In addition, as you’re constantly working to maintain balance over rough terrain, hiking strengthens core muscles and even boosts bone density.
Adding trekking poles brings upper body muscles into the exercise, helps with balance, and makes for a stronger cardio workout.
Improve Brain Power
Research shows that people who spend more time in nature, and less time with smart phones, computers, and other technology, are up to 50% more creative when it comes to problem-solving tasks. And hikers tend to have greater attention spans and better memories, when compared to those who don’t often spend time in the outdoors.
And while just about any exercise has been proven to boost cognitive function and alleviate anxiety, a hike through nature is even better when it comes to fighting common mental health issues like stress and depression. Measurable benefits have been proven when those struggling with severe depression and hopelessness go for a hike. For many the experience helps to encourage a more active lifestyle, which further promotes healthy, positive feelings.
Whereas running may be viewed as a chore, hiking is a pleasurable activity. A day on the trail is more than burning calories. It’s an opportunity to look around, explore, commune with nature, and spend time with friends and family.