I remember early last year when I was huffing and puffing while attempting to climb a thousand feet high and thinking to myself “Could I even complete this hike?”. I was a beginner in that sense with hiking, but 11 months later, I completed 52 hikes. I successfully finished the #52HikeChallenge, which is a global challenge made by the company that asks you to hike once per week for a whole year (that’s 52 weeks). Little did I know before signing up to do this challenge, I would receive health benefits that’s made me stronger and take good care of my mind and body.
Hiking is a well-known recreational activity that’s practiced by outdoor enthusiasts. It’s not only a guarantee to see stunning landscapes around you from heights where you can see the ocean, cities, or the forest below, but it’s guaranteed to get you a calorie-burning workout.
I’ve always thought of myself to not be the most active person and before this challenge, I was already on the verge of experiencing burnout. I often felt low in energy and my mind would feel clouded with a lot of thoughts that contributed to anxiety. I not only had to quit certain things that were no longer good for me like consumption of alcohol and coffee that just worsened my anxiety but if I was going to frequently hike, I needed to make water be my number one choice in drinks.
So what changes did I see from hiking frequently within months? When your body undergoes changes, you’re bound to be surprised by what a far way you’ve came when you believed there had to be improvements made there!
1. Your mental focus is sharper and you get bouts of creativity.
When your mind is jumbled up with what you have to get done in a list in your head, you may be overwhelmed with where to get started. Taking a walk in nature could give you the breather you’ve been looking for since your focus has shifted to nature, which has calming elements to it. You’ll find that with a quiet environment and moving, you would be doing a lot of meditating.
In a 2014 Stanford study, walking has been found to improve creativity. Walking, which is a form of aerobic exercise, does allow you to have your creative juices flowing more so than if you were sitting. In the study, the researchers involved an experiment with hundreds of college students and other adults to complete different tasks. One of their experiments included “divergent thinking”, where participants were given objects that they’d have to determine other uses for it. It was found that those walking on a treadmill instead of sitting were able to respond with more creative answers.
2. Anxiety and fatigue are decreased.
Anxiety can truly get the best of us with a lack of concentration, racing thoughts, fear, and/or physical symptoms that make us appear nervous or have uneasy feelings like trembling. When you’re hiking, anxious levels can decrease and you’ll feel more energetic. I remember hiking for my #Hike52 at Piestewa Peak in Arizona, I did not have a full rest the night before and halfway through the challenging hike, I was yawning like crazy. I kept going and I found that I had more energy once I made it up to the peak and as I was coming down. I was also energetic for the rest of that day.
In a study on affective responses in mountain hiking, there are findings that elation and calmness are increased while fatigue and anxiety were decreased, even while comparing conditions to those of a walk through indoor treadmills. The study also finds that pleasant surroundings like a mountain have larger effects on affective responses.
3. Your muscular fitness will improve.
This is probably one of the most perceptible physical changes you’ll experience in just weeks. My legs had more fat mass, but it toned and turned to muscle. With each step going on an incline, whether it’s steep or slightly steep, you’re putting your largest muscles in your body to work. Those muscles are located in the legs and those are your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Carry a backpack and it will help your smaller muscles such as the upper back and shoulders. Your body will adjust to the constant momentum as you step to an incline.
4. Your strength will increase.
You will have better endurance as you keep hiking through a trail. You will get going without slowing too much and this is largely due to the fact you have built your muscular strength. As your strength increases, you’ll be thankful that your balance will improve. I know that as I climb down to steep areas of a trail, I can put my weight on my footing and not worry about falling. You will also notice as you make a trip around per se like grocery stores, you can catch yourself slip before you fall. You will also probably find yourself doing activities like ice skating and roller skating without much assistance.
As you ascend to higher elevations, the way you use oxygen will be lessened and your breathing will adapt. You will often get shortness of breath but that will improve. Be aware of altitude sickness and do not underestimate yourself when it comes to higher elevations. It’s best to not start off from sea level and change to higher elevations suddenly, but to take your time getting used to it first.
5. It’ll lower your risks with certain health conditions.
Like most physical activities and according to this study on how physical inactivity contributes to premature death and chronic disease, you will lower your risk with cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity, cancer, and depression. Since hiking is a physical activity, these benefits come with it. Hiking will also improve your blood sugar levels and blood pressure. If you would like to live a quality life with health, hiking, an activity that can start off easy but can also become rigorous, is a great choice for physical activity. Another plus, you’ll improve your bone density.
6. Your weight will be more in control.
I was able to maintain my weight and not gain the more frequent I hiked. You’ve probably heard the ultimate benefit of hiking is losing weight and it surely is. When it comes to burning calories, you’ll be burning fat too. You may not see a drastic change if you are hiking every now and then or not changing up your difficulty of hiking, with time and lots of effort, you will eventually see the change. Try to make hiking a regular thing and challenge yourself a bit!
Hiking, hands down, changed my life for the better. I’ve never seen myself being this active but choosing to do a low impact cardio activity has made me notice my body can change physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s given me purpose and to go after a healthy lifestyle that I hope to continue to inspire me to feel, look, and think better.