The Surprising Health Benefits of Hiking

People hiking with dog

If I told you that the health benefits of hiking are tremendous, would you believe me? Even if you already hike, you may not know how much it does for you!

It’s pretty self-evident that it’s exercise at the very least. Try going on even a short day hike without burning some calories! For this post, I will be citing scientifically proven studies.

Let’s get into how it’s so good for you – you’ll be wanting to hit the trails in no time after you read these. I also wrote an article on how to train for hiking you can check out.

It burns a surprising amount of calories.

It’s no surprise that burning calories is the first item on the list. It’s probably the most apparent benefit of hiking because once you’ve been hiking for a day, your body knows you’ve done something. As with any form of exercise, consistency matters to provide long term benefits. The studies that I have cited have typically run for at least a couple of months. 

Don’t count on that time from last week to carry you through this one! This research paper found that hiking typically burned more calories than running, likely due to the uneven terrain involved. I knew it was a good workout, but I would have never guessed that it burned that many calories. A good rule of thumb that is pretty accurate is that you burn around 100 calories per mile.

The number of calories will vary more or less, depending on the incline / how much weight you are carrying. There’s a lot of other factors, but those are the main ones.

Woman sitting with coffee at campsite

There are benefits for your heart health

It’s pretty well known that regular cardio training will do wonders for your heart health. Why not get those benefits out in nature instead of walking on a stationary treadmill? According to this PDF from the American Hiking Society, hiking lowers blood pressure, blood sugar, and reduces your risk of heart disease.

Getting outside and moving is so essential, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 1 in 4 Americans sits for more than eight hours a day. Sitting for that amount of time has shown to contribute to heart disease and even cancer. Here’s a study that goes in-depth on it. I could probably write a whole article on the adverse effects of sitting, but that’s for another time!

Hiking has even been shown to help with depression

In this study by Stanford researchers, a 90-minute walk in a natural setting decreased self-reported rumination by participants and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. I know that sentence is a lot to digest, so let’s make it simple: Walking in nature improved the participant’s mental state according to them, AND this was measurable in their brains.

This result may not come as a surprise to a lot of you that are regularly in the outdoors, but it means a lot and here’s why: It validates what we’ve been feeling in a scientific way. For a long time, I’ve known that getting outside can be a massive boost to my mood. Even on the days where I don’t feel great, I can always tell the difference.

Want strong bones? Hiking increases bone density

More dense bones = stronger bones. As we age, our bone density drops unless we supplement it with exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise. According to the National Institute of Health, hiking is one of the best exercises to increase and maintain bone density.

Our bodies were made to move and traverse. It’s when we don’t get out and about that we start to run into problems!

Man jumping on mountaintop

Boost your creativity and problem solving by spending time in nature

While not an exclusive health benefit of hiking, I found it too interesting to leave out. In a 2012 study, researchers found that spending four days in nature disconnected from technology increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50%! One of my favorite things about hiking is the ability to disconnect from my phone.

I still have it with me in case of an emergency, but it’s turned off and tucked away.

The big point of this study isn’t just the disconnection from technology but replacing it with a different stimulus: nature. It forces us to get out of our regular attention habits and into what’s right in front of us.

The health benefits of hiking are well documented and vast

The science is there: hiking is one of the best things you can do for your health. There’s no shortage of studies confirming that. I kept finding ones I wanted to put in here!

The advantage of hiking as an outlet for regular exercise is that it’s one of the cheapest things out there. Other outlets for exercise can be expensive just to get started with the equipment, especially sports. If you can spend some money, a good pair of hiking boots will go a long way. However, that’s far from a requirement! I wrote an article on affordable hiking boots you can check out too.

Plus, if you decide that hiking is a long term thing, you can always ease your way into buying better gear. Trust me; there’s always a new shiny thing out there that you want. The important thing is to get out there and enjoy nature.

Wondering where the closest trails are to you?

The best resource I’ve found for finding local trails is Hiking Project. It has a ton of detail on each trail (distance, grade, elevation, etc.) as well as screenshots, so you know what you’re heading into. I hope this article has been informative, showing the numerous health benefits of hiking.

It’s even got me fired up to get out there and back on the trails!


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