Hiking and running are two different activities that are both beneficial to our physical and mental health.
Hiking is usually done on trails or footpaths in the countryside. It is a long and vigorous walk that first developed in Europe during the 18th century. It is also done in religious pilgrimages but involves walking for a spiritual purpose associated with specific religions.
“Hiking” is the term preferred by the United States and Canada, while “walking” is the term used in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom to describe all forms of walking, whether it is just a walk at the park or backpacking in the mountains.
Running, on the other hand, is an activity during which you move rapidly on foot. It can refer to a variety of speeds, ranging from sprinting to jogging.
About 2.6 million years ago, the ancestors of humankind developed the ability to run long distances in order to hunt animals.
Running can improve health and life expectancy. Furthermore, adding this activity to your daily workout routine also helps you get better in other sports. Read along to find out how this works.
Before we get to how hiking can help you with running, let us first take a look at the overall benefits of this activity.
- Good for the heart
Hiking is a great activity that is good for our cardiovascular health. Even light hiking can raise the heart rate to a moderate level that contributes to the improvement of one’s aerobic fitness and endurance. Over time, your body will adjust to new fitness levels and allows you to hike faster, harder, and for a longer period without feeling as fatigued or out of breath as the first time. Hiking can also improve cardiovascular health, specifically blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol. Studies have shown that simply going on regular moderate hikes can significantly reduce hypertension, improve glucose tolerance, and decrease one’s levels of bad cholesterol over time.
- Improves Balance
As you hike, your core and leg muscles are constantly contracting and engaging to provide balance and stability on uneven terrains. Balance improves as these stabilizing muscles strengthen over time, but that’s not all. Hiking also helps increase proprioception, which is the mind’s awareness of the movement and position of the body in relation to its environment. As you hike, the brain is processing every root and rock and calculating what it will take to step over these obstacles. With practice, the brain becomes more adept at assessing these obstacles, and as a result, your balance improves. Furthermore, as we get older, it’s really important that we keep working on our balance in order to prevent falls. Hiking is a fun activity to do so while also spending time outdoors.
- Builds Muscles
Hiking also strengthens other muscles in the body, including the arms and back. In fact, hiking is a great activity for almost every major muscle group in our body. Walking uphill engages the quads, calves, hamstrings, and glutes while hiking downhill engages the core, hips, and ankles. The back and arm muscles can also be strengthened when you hike using trekking poles or when carrying a moderate to heavy pack. So, if going to the gym isn’t fun for you, you should give hiking a try.
- Increase Bone Density
Bone density is the amount of bone mineral present in your bones. A high bone density is important to prevent broken bones and reduce the risks for osteoporosis. Weight-bearing and high-impact activities, like hiking, can help improve bone density because it strengthens the bone tissue. But for this activity to effectively increase your bone density, it has to be done at a moderate to high level.
- Helps with Weight Loss
This might not be everyone’s goal but if you do want to lose weight, hiking is a great activity to accomplish this. The amount of calories you will burn during a hike depends on a lot of factors, like aerobic intensity and weight, but if you are just starting out, light hiking can still result in gradual weight loss. For adults, the recommended physical activity is at least 2.5 hours per week. If your goal is to lose weight, starting with just 3 x 50-minute hikes per week on a local trail can help.
- Eases Stress and Boost Mental Wellbeing
A lot of research supports the notion that connecting with nature can improve mental health and well-being. Whether we are taking in the spectacular view of a sunset or just gazing out at a field of flowers, these experiences and the feeling of being impressed by nature can make us feel happier and less stressed.
Forest bathing is a Japanese practice that consists of taking a walk or hiking in the woods as a way to reconnect with nature and disconnect from the digital world. Spending time in nature can bring forth a new powerful feeling that elicits a more positive outlook on life and melts our stress. In the modern world, stress and mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, are parts of many people’s everyday lives. But, spending time in nature can help evoke a sense of calm and peace in our otherwise restless lives.
- Unplug from Technology
Over the years, we have become more reliant on technology. While it makes our lives a whole lot easier, it also comes with disadvantages. Living life through our phones and social media can result in anxiety, an unhealthy comparison to others, not to mention the time it takes us. Social media and other apps are designed to be addictive, which is why we must keep things balanced and unplug from technology once in a while. Turn off your phone and go for a hike to get an opportunity to live in the present and disconnect from the pressure that we sometimes feel when scrolling down our social media feeds.
- Improves Self-esteem
Doing hard activities might not always feel great, but how good do you feel afterward? When you challenge yourself, you feel a sense of accomplishment that can lead to improved self-esteem. A 2010 study found that even five minutes of outdoor exercise can already lead to more confidence. Hiking can make you feel stronger, independent, more capable, and ready for another day.
- Improves Sleep
Research has found that regular exercise can help improve sleep patterns and relieve insomnia. It may have to do with one’s ability to stabilize their mood and decompress their mind, resulting in a more relaxed mind and body.
Another theory shows that simply being outside and getting natural light can affect our sleep patterns. Exposure to sunlight, especially early in the morning, is crucial to producing melatonin — the sleep hormone.
- Improves Brain Function and Memory
Blood flows to the brain, and when we hike, it carries with it oxygen and other important nutrients. Furthermore, studies have found that this increase in blood flow can improve memory and cognitive functions. Researchers also found that older people who exercised in the past, even in short bursts, had a better memory than those who didn’t.
How much hiking equals running?
The comparison between hiking and running depends on the terrain, weather, fitness level, and your limits. If you are hiking uphill, then it is harder than running a mile on rolling terrain. Thus, we can say that if your level of fitness is adequate and the weather is friendly, hiking a mile uphill may be equivalent to running two miles on rolling terrain.
10 ways hiking can help you with running
- Less risk of injury
Hiking is a great choice if you are looking for a low-intensity cardio activity, though anyone who’s done a tough uphill hike knows that a hike typically ends up involving at least a few areas of high-intensity activity, during which you push yourself to a particularly steep climb. In the long run, although this low-intensity cardio is done for a longer period, you’ll still be able to get aerobic gains, which help reduce the risks of injuries, especially if you are a novice runner and find even the shortest runs challenging.
- Prepares you for running
If you are preparing for a trail run, hiking can provide a more gentle introduction to tougher terrains. Going for a hike on a single-track trail will feel less intimidating than heading out for a run, and because you move slower when hiking, your body will adjust to navigating roots and rocks, which will give you fewer chances of falling.
Hiking will also give you the option to bring a full-size backpack rather than a small hydration pack. You can also carry snacks and a first aid kit, so you have everything you need in case you are out there for a long time.
Hiking is a good activity if you want to start adding more elevation to your usual workout routine and will also prepare you perfectly for runs that may include hilly segments.
- More time in nature
Spending time in nature can alleviate stress and make you more productive and creative and decrease your anxiety. As most runners probably opt for time-saving routes around the neighborhood or on a treadmill, and while running of any type can still provide stress relief, hiking or spending time in actual nature can be more powerful and beneficial than a 30-minute treadmill run.
- Good for cross-training
To give your body a break from all the road-running, you must do some form of cross-training. However, most recommended sports for cross-training, like swimming, cycling, and cross-country skiing, require a lot of new gear and access to a pool. Hiking, on the other hand, does not require you to buy any new gear. You just need a good pair of shoes and a water bottle. Although, you only need minimal gear until you start thinking about doing multi-day trips.
Hiking is a good cross-training activity that will allow your body to take a break from running on the pavement without spending too much money.
- Engage less-utilized muscles
Running can sometimes rely on certain muscle groups and ignore the other major ones. It may also help activate less-utilized muscles because the terrain is more uneven and you’re most likely going to perform squats, lunges, and jumps over and around rocks and roots.
Hiking is listed as one of the most effective ways to recover from body aches and pains associated with repetitive running because it keeps your muscles engaged without any of the pressure felt when running. As mentioned above, it also works out the less-utilized muscles, which are usually ignored when running.
- Increases Endurance
Hiking can help you with running because it can increase your endurance and performance, especially uphill and on steeper sections of marathons and races. If you are a trail-runner and are prepping for a marathon, hiking should be part of your weekly ritual.
- Improves Leg Strength
Hiking can improve leg strength through uphill climbs wherein you utilize your glutes and quads to get up summits and hills. This motion also imitates the act of running, which allows your body to exert effort without actually going for a long run. In addition, the balance required to be able to maintain a steady pace when hiking will engage your stabilizing muscles, which can improve your running form.
- Core Stability
Since you are effectively balancing your weight on one foot for a moment, your core is working to keep you upright. When hiking, you are moving at a slow pace, thus allowing your body to use the muscles that it rarely uses at higher speeds.
- Strengthen Stabilizers
Hiking is a great activity that can serve as a breathing space from the monotony of road running. It is also a chance for your body to use some of the little stabilizing muscles located in your legs and ankles. You’ll also be moving laterally while finding the best footing along the trail.
Hiking is a great way to switch things up for your body and build adequate strength that will translate well to your running.
Tips for adding hiking into your marathon training
- Swap out easier runs
While it may be tempting to do a hike on the longest days in your marathon training ritual, those long runs shouldn’t be skipped. Therefore, cross-training or hiking should replace the easier runs instead of the longer ones.
If you are planning a weekend camping trip, try to overlap it with a day or two on your training regime where it does not involve 6+ mile training runs. Then, select a few difficult hikes instead. If you’re camping with kids and toddlers, consider doing an extra hike for yourself as the pace and difficulty of a family hike might not be beneficial enough to your marathon training.
- Choose productive hikes
If you want to replace your training runs with hikes, you should pick some that involve a decent uphill climb. While a river walk can be an alternative to pavement-pounding runs, it is not going to replace your run unless you find a way to get your heart rate up and blood pumping. The best options for cross-training are hikes with an increase in elevation of 1,000 feet or more. Push yourself in terms of pace during summit hikes. You can also use trekking poles when hiking to relieve joints on downhills, preserve your muscles, and avoid musculoskeletal injuries and soreness.
- Don’t push too hard
Monitor your muscles and be conscientious of your body’s condition and exertion levels. Pushing your body to its limit amid a race or marathon can hinder your progress and cause potential injuries. Thus, try not to do a strenuous hike ahead of a long run. Instead, use these hikes to reduce muscle soreness and help your muscles recover.
Can hiking replace running?
If you are not a competitive runner or do not plan to do marathons and races, hiking can replace running. If you are running for health benefits or weight loss but want to be around nature instead of running on a treadmill or around the neighborhood, you can definitely replace that with hiking. If you think hiking will be more beneficial for your physical and mental health, then you can do so as well. However, if you are running marathons and races, you should never replace your long runs with hiking, but rather incorporate some hikes into your weekly routine in addition to major training runs.
Both hiking and running offer positive physical and mental health benefits. To get the most out of these activities, you should pair them with a good diet and lifestyle.