What Are The Health Benefits Of Trekking ?
Hiking is one of the easiest workouts to pick up, because all you need is an outdoor space with an incline and a good pair of shoes. There’s nothing better than getting out for some fresh air after being cooped up all winter.
Hiking has benefits for both physical and mental health and is a great option for cross training for athletes. Whether you’re going out for an easy, leisurely hike or taking on a challenging trail run, you’ll reap the benefits hiking has to offer.
Being in Nature is Good for Our Mental Health
According to recent research, people who live in cities have higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses than those who live outside urban areas. Notably, people who live in cities also spend less time outside.
A study published in 2015 found that walking in a tree-lined green space not only improved people’s self-reported mental health, but also decreased activity in the participants’ subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area that is associated with rumination, which can be a precursor to depression. This was compared to a control group who walked for the same amount of time in an urban environment and did not experience any significant improvements in mental health.
Further research has shown that regular hiking decreases stress and can even help improve memory. While walking in any environment has benefits, taking a hike in the quiet of a park or on a mountain takes those benefits to the next level.
In addition to improved mental health, hiking is great for physical health. One of the most obvious benefits is improved cardiovascular fitness. The incline associated with hiking is part of what makes it so great: the greater the incline, the more you’ll get your blood pumping. With improved cardiovascular fitness, you’ll enjoy decreased risk of high blood pressure, stroke, coronary heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous cardiovascular exercise. That breaks down to 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, of moderate exercise, which studies suggest can be done in intervals as short as 10 minutes and still be beneficial. With one hour-long hike per weekend, you’ll be well on your way to meeting those recommendations.
Improved Muscular Fitness
Not only will hiking get your heart rate going and help improve your cardiovascular fitness, it’s also a great way to improve your muscular fitness. Hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, and with each step up the incline, you engage some of the largest muscles in your body: your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Every time you hoist your bodyweight further along the trail, those muscles fire into action. If you’ve ever been on a steep hike, you’ll know it isn’t all about the uphill either. Controlling your body’s momentum on the downhill is in large part thanks to your quads. They engage to help brace you as you move downhill, so you don’t go tumbling.
Because you’ll want to stay hydrated and energized, if your hike is longer than a couple of miles, you’ll probably be carrying some sort of backpack with supplies. For safety reasons, it’s a good idea to always have a first aid kit and basic supplies regardless of your hike length, just in case. An added benefit of carrying supplies is that wearing a backpack forces your core to engage to keep you stable and balanced, meaning a workout for your abdominal and back muscles without ever doing a crunch!
Hiking as Cross Training
Whether you’re a runner looking for hill work or a lifter who needs to improve the functioning of your hip and knee stabilizers, hiking is a great way to incorporate cross training. Cross training essentially means exercising in multiple different ways. It is important because it can help reduce your risk of injury, control your weight, and make exercise more interesting.
For long-distance runners, hill work is a necessary evil. Hiking is a great way to challenge the same muscle groups you work while running hills, get a great cardio workout, and do something a little different than usual. While a walking-pace hike can offer these great benefits, a trail run is an even better way to get in your hill work.
Even if you aren’t a runner, cross training is important, and hiking can be a great option. Because of the variable nature of hiking trails, your body must constantly adjust to the terrain. This means that the muscles that aid in ankle, knee, and hip stability are being called upon with every step, something that doesn’t happen if you’re walking on an incline on the treadmill or climbing the StairMaster.