Most people blanch at the idea of any kind of cardiovascular exercise. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that, more often than not, cardiovascular exercise involves using some kind of machine in a smelly gym.
What if you could take your cardio outside, though?
If you want to experience all the benefits of cardio without dealing with dozens of other gym patrons, try giving hiking a try. It’s great for both your mental and your physical health.
Read on to learn about eight health benefits of hiking.
1. Burn Lots of Calories
If weight loss is one of your health and fitness goals, hiking is the perfect option for burning calories while enjoying the great outdoors.
During a leisurely hike, you can easily burn between 300 and 600 calories. On a more intense, steep hike, or one where you’re carrying a heavy load, you’ll burn even more -- you could potentially even get into the thousands.
2. Control Your Workouts
If you’re someone who likes to pave your own way and mix things up, hiking is a very good way to get in some exercise.
You get to set your own path, determine the pace, and decide where you want to go. You can hike a different trail each week if you want, and you don’t have to deal with anyone bossing you around.
3. Strengthen Your Lower Body
Because of all the climbing and incline walking involved, hiking is a very effective form of exercise for people who want to strengthen their legs and glutes.
It’s also a form of weight-bearing exercise, which improves your bone density and decreases your risk of developing osteoporosis as you age.
4. Strengthen Your Core
Hiking is also very effective for training your core. You have to work harder to maintain your balance and stabilize yourself, especially when you’re climbing steep hills and walking over uneven surfaces.
5. Lower Blood Sugar Levels
All forms of exercise help lower blood sugar levels, but hiking is especially beneficial. When you exercise, your body has to work harder to shuttle glucose from your bloodstream into your muscles.
Downhill hiking has specifically been shown to remove glucose from the blood more efficiently than uphill hiking.
6. Improve Your Immune System Function
Spending time outdoors helps strengthen your immune system and decreases your chances of getting sick. Combine time outdoors with regular exercise and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a powerful immune system.
Hiking can be an especially healing activity for oncological patients. It’s been shown to improve the body’s antioxidative capacity. This, in turn, helps fight off disease and boosts chances of recovery.
7. Increase Creativity
If things have been feeling a bit stagnant at work, a good hike might be just what you need. A study from Stanford University has shown that hiking can boost attention span and creative problem-solving ability by up to 50 percent.
Researchers believe that the combination of exercise, time outdoors, and time disconnected from technology all play a role in increasing creativity.
8. Boost Your Mood
Hiking can also help you feel happier, more relaxed, and less prone to anxiety and depression. Exercise, in general, produces endorphins, chemicals that can boost your mood. Exposure to sunlight can also increase your body’s natural endorphin production. Why not try combining the two and going for a hike?
How to Stay Safe While Hiking
If you’re interested in taking up hiking, it’s important to take some safety precautions first. Some specific steps you can take include:
Wearing sturdy, high-quality hiking boots to protect your ankles and feet
Wearing toe cushions to protect skin from friction, especially if you have foot problems like bunions or hammer toes
Using hiking poles if you have balance issues
Carrying a backpack specifically designed for hiking -- this provides optimal stability and will help you avoid hurting your back
Keeping a first aid kit with you in case of injury
You also should tell someone whenever you go out hiking alone and give them a rough estimate of when you’ll be back. Carry a map, too, or download one to your phone or tablet so you don’t get lost.