Like most avid hikers, I'm chock full of reasons to hit the trail in any season. The way hiking refreshes my soul -- with nary a car to be heard and very few people to be seen -- is certainly near the top of my list. But even if you don't find time spent outdoors to be true soul food, hiking still offers plenty of concrete -- and fairly immediate -- benefits. Check what hiking can do for you:
1. A Strong Heart and Lungs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Sports Medicine, and pretty much every health-oriented organization ever all advocate doing regular cardiovascular workouts.
So why not get a little fresh air with your sweat?
Instead of grinding out the miles on a treadmill in the gym, you could be strolling in the mountains, forest, beach... you get the idea. And if you think hiking isn't challenging enough? Try keeping a brisk pace straight up the side a steep mountain, while toting a backpack full of water!
In all seriousness, one of the neatest things about hiking is that no matter your fitness level, there's a trail that suits you -- from mountain-goat-worthy scrambles to flat, forested strolls.
2. A Rockin' Lower Half
Hiking is a classic example of the advice trainers give to find an activity you love for its own sake. If you keep it up, you're going to start noticing some changes in your butt, thighs and calves -- even if you're not going very far or fast at first. And if you love hiking for its own sake, it won't even be much of a strain.
Of course, hiking doesn't do much for your upper body -- that's what gyms are for! And although it might not give you a six-pack on its own, hiking over uneven terrain -- especially agility-intensive boulder hopping -- puts your core to work, too.
That's one reason why I love boulder hopping so much; it's like a jungle gym for adults!
3. A Skinny... Everything!
When it comes to calorie burn, hiking puts up some pretty impressive numbers -- more than 400 calories per hour, more or less, if you weigh 150 pounds. (How many lattes is that?)
Mind you, an unhealthy diet can still cancel out all that effort -- but if you're eating healthy food and hiking regularly, odds are good that you're going to notice some shrinkage of the very best kind. (Want some help setting up a healthy diet? Start here!)
If you're looking for an activity to build self-confidence or teach a child the value of proper preparation, try hiking on for size. Think about it: When you have a successful hike it's because your feet took you every step of the way; it's because you carried everything you needed on your back and all the knowledge you needed in your head.
And when you extend yourself into overnight hiking territory, the amount of self-confidence -- and pride -- you get out of knowing you can take care of yourself only multiplies.
5. Relaxation and Focus
Feeling overwhelmed by life? Maybe a little jaunt outside is all you need. Studies abound to show that time outdoors reduces stress, may ease depression, and can even boost your mental function and focus. (Here's an example) Maybe instead of cramming for your next test, you should go for a hike!
6. More Energy
It's no secret that working out can leave you energized, and hiking definitely counts in that department. But there's something else at work here too. In the same study I linked to under #5, researchers found that subjects who either spent time outside or imagined themselves outside were consistently more energetic than those who didn't. Pretty cool, huh?