Hiking is a recreational activity wherein you take a walk in nature. It is an exercise that promotes physical fitness and it is also widely recommended as a form of physical training for many athletes.
This activity can be performed alone or with a group and is convenient, economical, and requires no special equipment. Hikers can also walk as far as they can without feeling any physical strain, unless they walk in mountains or hills.
Hiking provides many physical and mental health benefits, but is it good to hike every day? It is not bad to do so because regular exercise is encouraged by health experts. However, you should know your limits and listen to what your body needs. Read along to find out more!
Benefits of Hiking
- 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 aerobic fitness and endurance. Over time, your body will adjust to new fitness levels and you can hike faster, harder, and for a longer period without feeling as fatigued or out of breath as the first time.
Hiking can also improve blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol. Studies have shown that simply going on regular, moderate hikes can actually significantly reduce hypertension, improve glucose tolerance, and decrease the 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 over uneven terrains. Balance improves as these stabilizing muscles strengthen over time. But, this doesn’t just improve balance. Hiking also helps increase proprioception, which is the mind’s awareness of the movement and position of the body in relation to its environment. Indeed, 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 essential 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 of the body, including the arms and back. In fact, hiking is a great activity for almost every major muscle group in the 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 shot.
- Increases Bone Density
Bone density is the number of bone minerals present in your bones. A high bone density is important to prevent broken bones and lower the risks for osteoporosis. Weight-bearing and high-impact activities like hiking can help improve bone density as they strengthen the bone tissues. 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 satisfying activity. 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 Boosts Mental Well-being
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 views of a sunset or just gazing out at a flower field, these experiences or feeling impressed by nature can make us feel happier and less stressed.
Forest bathing is a Japanese practice that involves 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 illness, such as anxiety and depression, are part of most people’s daily lives. But, spending time in nature can help evoke a sense of calm and peace in our otherwise restless lives.
- Allow You to Unplug from Technology
Over the years, we have become more reliant on technology. While technology 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 amount of time wasted on them. 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 the 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 feel great while we’re doing them, 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 just 5 minutes of outdoor exercise can already lead to more confidence. Hiking can also 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, and this may have to do with our ability to stabilize our mood and decompress our mind, which results 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 the Brain’s Functions and Memory
Blood flows to the brain, when we hike, carries with it oxygen and other important nutrients. Furthermore, studies have found that this increase in blood flow can improve one’s memory and cognitive function. Researchers also have found that older people who have exercised, even in short bursts, had a better memory than those who didn’t.
Research shows that it is good to hike every day because it can help you lose weight, strengthen your muscles, increase endurance, reduce stress, and reduce the risks of contracting diseases. It is also better than machines and repetitive movements and more beneficial to our mental health. However, hiking and any other exercise should be approached with moderation. Thus, you should know your body’s limits and be careful not to burn out.
- Tips for beginners
- You should warm up before hiking and cool down after to avoid the risks of muscle injuries.
- You should consume sufficient calories and have a healthy, balanced diet to have enough energy for a hike. Indeed, food is also an important part of the recovery process.
- Remember to check in with your doctor regularly, especially if you have a history of injuries or if you are over 40 years old.
- Choose appropriate walks or terrains that match your age and/or fitness level.
- Remember to wear comfortable clothing, supportive footwear, and the appropriate hiking poles.
- Make the hike fun!
An average person can hike an average of 15 miles every day, which covers about 2-3 miles per hour, assuming that the trail is paved and relatively easy. Experts recommend that you take at least 10,000 steps per day. You can track your steps by using mobile apps so that you can figure out how much distance you can cover at a time and what your walking speed is.
- Trails recommended for hiking every day
- Easy access
For those who strictly work 8 hours a day, your trails should be located near you or the places you frequent. Your walk to and from the trailhead can already be considered your warmup and cool down. Trails around transport hubs are also a great alternative because you can just hop into public transport and go.
- Easy on the body
Choose a flat terrain, like a park or garden that is just around your neighborhood, or look for walking tracks designed for beginners and save the challenging terrains for weekends.
- More length than incline
Choose trails that will allow you to increase the intensity through additional distance as opposed to trails that incline steeply. Remember to maintain your breathing pattern. You can always mix your routine with moderate to challenging trails once or twice a week, but don’t do this every day.
- Easy access
Can you lose weight by hiking every day?
Yes, you can lose weight by hiking every day because hiking burns about 266 calories per hour for people who weigh 155 lbs., and 233 calories per hour for people weighing 185 lbs. Furthermore, research shows that a person who weighs 154 lbs. can burn 370 calories in an hour of hiking. In general, hiking every day can burn more calories than walking due to the different terrains that feature steeper paths.
Is hiking enough exercise?
Hiking can be enough exercise, assuming that you do it moderately every day and with a healthy, balanced diet. Similar to other cardio exercises such as running, going up and down hills can get your heart pumping and reduce the risks of heart diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, strokes, and even some cancers. It is also a weight-bearing activity that can build and tone your muscles and prevent osteoporosis. Here are more reasons why hiking is a great daily exercise:
- It can help you manage your weight.
- It is a joint-friendly exercise that can keep people with arthritis more limber and mobile.
- It provides the body with vitamin D.
- For people with type 2 diabetes, hiking is likely to reduce, or even eliminate, your need for insulin. However, make sure you talk with your doctor about how these exercises may reduce your need for medication.
- As mentioned above, hiking offers psychological benefits that often contribute to a more relaxed feeling and enhanced well-being.
Be sure to consult your doctor before hiking, especially if you have hypertension or heart disease. Even if you are very healthy, hiking can be a whole new exercise because you use muscles that you do not use on flat surfaces, which is why you have to warm up, cool down, and listen to your body.
Tips for Choosing a Terrain or Route
- Determine how much time you have
The amount of time you have can determine what terrain you can take. Don’t forget to calculate how long it will take you to get to and from the trailhead.
- Your fitness level
You have to assess your fitness level to have an enjoyable time rather than suffering through a long, strenuous hike because you are not prepared for it. But, do not be discouraged if you are not in that great of a shape because there are hikes for everyone.
Assess how many hours and miles you are comfortable hiking. The average walking pace is about 3 mph. However, depending on the terrain, elevation gain, and the weight you’re carrying on your back, your hiking pace can be slower than that.
- Elevation gain
It is a factor that can determine the difficulty of a hike. Over time, you’ll come to determine what is too much and how much elevation gain you can comfortably handle. A general recommendation is to add one hour to your trip for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
- Weather and Time of the Year
Some trails will not be accessible at some time of the year because they are covered in snow. If the sun is setting earlier in a certain season, you have to plan accordingly so that you will not get unexpectedly caught after dark. Always check the weather forecast at your location before heading out so you pack and dress appropriately.
Certain hikes may require a bit more planning. For example, you need to plan for shuttle cars if you end up doing a hike that starts and finishes at different locations.
Disadvantages of Hiking
- Hiking at higher altitudes can lead to mild headaches, nausea, fatigue, and lightheadedness, especially for people who live in low-altitude areas.
- Anyone who is out of shape and not properly equipped will have an increased risk of injuries and can experience muscle soreness and tightening for about 2-3 days following a hike.
- Hiking in the wilderness can be risky, especially in the case of multi-day hikes. That is why it is important to pack everything you need. A mobile phone, GPS, compass, rain gear, map, first aid kit, sunscreen, trail food, hydration pack, and any other essentials are best to pack. It is also best to start early in the day.
- You should let someone know about your hiking path and expected time of return.
- It is best to walk the trails with a group or at least one companion, especially when doing a multi-day hike.
What not to do when hiking
- Do not play loud music
Everyone should respect nature while hiking in the wilderness. Loud noises can cause a lot of disturbance to wild animals who cannot tolerate these loud noises and the frequency emitted by speakers and phones.
- Avoid wearing headphones
While music has become an important part of our lives, it is also important to unplug every now and then. Plus, you must be fully aware of your surroundings, especially when walking alone, although you should also do so when you are with a group.
- Avoid alcohol intoxication
Alcohol affects our brain and spine coordination, which results in imbalance, heavy breathing, and bad decision making. That is why you should not smoke nor drink before or during a hike.
- Do not eat wild fruits
It may be tempting to eat the fruits you find in the wild, however, some fruits and mushrooms are poisonous and should not be consumed nor even touched. Therefore, you should know about them before consuming them.
- Do not litter
Let us respect nature and avoid damaging it by littering on the trails or on the mountains as this can be irreversible and harm our climate and the whole ecology. We should be responsible hikers and leave nothing but footsteps behind ourselves.
- Do not hike in the dark
Make sure you make it home or to your destination before it gets dark as hiking when it’s dark can be dangerous.