The Mental Health Benefits of Hiking, Stress Aleviation and Anxiety Relief

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Our brain is our biggest opponent. It does everything to keep us comfortable and safe, locking us into a particular mode of living. Hiking, though, is one of the best, all natural ways to help you break through and boost your mental health. It is an overlooked activity that reaps massive benefits with nearly no downside. In this article, I will discuss in depth why hiking gives you enormous mental and physical health benefits that will serve you well in the long term.

Why Even Go Hiking? There are Other Options Too

If you can just pop a pill, eat a fatty meal, or drink beer, why not do that instead? It is obviously easier and quicker to do. You save time in fact. You get the same result you want—relief of anxiety—by just choosing an unhealthy alternative. It was as if you went hiking. It just comes without all the exercise and time invested.

Yes, to hike, it does take time to get there and energy to exercise. Your time is your most valuable resource. While it does take time, you benefit in all areas of your life by hiking. It increases your productivity level. It is not only good for your health, but your soul. You see scenery and wildlife by hiking. Each step you take only strengthens you and generates profound introspection.

But by choosing an unhealthy option, almost regularly for a lot of us, you lose out. The pills create an unexpected side effect and the burger adds fat in places you do not like. To combat that, you take more pills, only to be confronted with a different problem. It goes on and on like this.

Hiking is a break from that cycle. It is all natural, all beneficial, and all encompassing. You gain in all areas of your life from it. Your social life benefits from hiking with friends. Your career benefits from increased productivity. Your personal life benefits from increased awareness. There is nothing to lose.

Combat Depression – You Deserve a Good Life

If you have ever faced anxiety or depression, it seems like a never ending spiral downward. The world is closing in and there is no way out. The world is one way or another. Facebook makes it seem like everyone is living great, stupendous lives, while you are in the same spot as you were three months, six months, one year, two years, or even five years ago. It is gut wrenching. You feel that you have achieved nothing.


Hiking, though, is an antidote to those issues. One of the magical things about it is that it is only empowering with no drawbacks. On a hike, you are constantly making progress, despite any turmoil in your life. It gives you the feeling of significance. At the end of a hike, you realize that you started and completed something. By hiking, you can feel valuable over and over again.

On top of that, it gets you out of your head. Often times, we are always focused on someplace, sometime elsewhere. Hiking forces you to be present; you have to know where you are going, because of either danger or beauty, hopefully the latter. As such, it will cause you to take a step back. It puts yourself in the world and makes you part of a system. Problems are not as big as you think they are.

Further, nearly anyone can do it. If you can walk, you can hike. Long trails seem insurmountable initially, but all those steps can be broken down to a single one. A mile is really only the culmination of 2,000 single steps. You start at a small level, build at a consistent pace, and soon you are the end of the trail head, wondering where all the time has gone. You have accomplished something.

Lastly, remember that a human being is designed to be in nature. We spent most of our time in the woods, grasslands, and jungles. We experience joy and happiness from being in the calming realm of nature. It is in your DNA. People are not meant to be sitting at a desk for hours on end. They are supposed to be active and on their feet. You will feel better by simply being on your feet and in the soothing breeze of nature.

Mental Benefits

There are numerous scientific studies to support the mental health benefits of hiking. It has been shown to help in a number of important areas:

  • Creativity and problem-solving ability, it increases your attention span and creativity; much of it has to do with unplugging from technology, but there is also a good chunk of it that has to do with the scenery. By hiking, you can improve your creativity and problem-solving ability as much as 50%. That is incredible!
  • Boost your mood, hiking releases endorphins, lifting your spirit. Sunshine and fresh air fill you with a sense of calm, taking you to another world. REI Market Manager, Leigh Jackson-Magennis said, “Being out in nature can allow people to connect with themselves and nature in a way that brings about peace and a sense of well-being.” In other words, hiking warms your soul.
  • Fight depression, in a study done in 2012, regular group hikes were shown to decrease hopelessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The way you think will literally change by hiking. Is that cool or what?

Your mind is the most critical organ in your body for greatness. It needs to be in the best shape of its life to achieve the ambitious goals and dreams you have. If you make this a hobby, even once a week for short periods of time, who knows where you will end up?

Physical Gains, Activity Enhances Your Personal Power

In addition to the many and great mental benefits of hiking, there are also physical gains to be had. Science has shown that hiking can help you in a number of important areas in addition to boosting your mood:

  • Help your weight, hiking will help you lose weight. There is no doubt about that. Higher altitudes along with the distance and inclines will cause your body to burn off the body fat.
  • Balance, by hiking, you increase your hand-eye coordination. When hiking, you have to especially watch where you are going, so as not to trip or injure yourself.
    Uneven terrain has a way of making your body more agile.
  • Build leg muscle, the more and more you hike, the stronger your legs will become. Your body will become more comfortable marching up steep hills and walking for long distances.
  • Bone density, bones, to stay strong, need constant muscle contraction and the stress of gravity. By hiking, you give both of these activities to your bones.
  • Blood pressure and sugar Levels,
    hiking causes you to burn fat. By lifting your heart rate, hiking burns immediate energy such as sugar and fat. Your body adjusts itself to the new activity. You increase your cardio-respiratory fitness.
  • Fight disease, hiking improves oxidative capacity, which helps fight off diseases and ailments. These include some such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke. In a 2011 study, cancer patients were shown to benefit from an increased oxidative level when hiking.

A Holistic Infographic to Summarize Everything

The owner of Smarthikr, Dwayne, reached out to me in an email and asked if I could include his infographic in this article. From my reading of the infographic, I found it to be quite helpful. In short, it summarizes everything you read in this article. Enjoy!

Health benefits of hiking

A Final Word of the Future Ahead

Hiking is simple. You take it one step at a time. Building slowly from the first, it adds up over time. One step becomes two. Two become four. Four become sixteen. Sixteen become a hundred. A hundred become a thousand. A thousand become five thousand. Five thousand becomes ten thousand. Soon you are at the end of your journey. Gasping in awe about what you have completed. Just remember, there is a perfect hiking trail out there for you to improve your life.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, please comment below and remember to share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

I have one more thing before you go though. If you are looking to get started on something really fulfilling like backpacking, then I recommend reading my article on Backpacking Basics for Beginners. You will see nature like you have never her before on one of these outdoor adventures.

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22 Comments on “The Mental Health Benefits of Hiking, Stress Aleviation and Anxiety Relief”

  1. There’s plenty benefits of hiking and I really miss it. I would go hiking a lot when I lived in the UK but since I moved to South East Asia, I don’t seem to have the same motivation.

    If nothing else it’s good for the soul. I need to get my self in check and start planning some trips.

    1. Craig,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I am sure there are plenty of trails near you in South East Asia. It is just a matter of finding them. Again, thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day.

      -Alex

  2. Cool read here. I get out to the lakes every week and hike down to a good fishing place by myself. As far as for exercise I probably should do this more often but I do have fun being in nature and beginning to live away from the buy buy buy mentality and go go go thinking. I’m realizing life is short and you can’t take any of it with you so might as well enjoy nature. Well written and informative article on hiking benefits

    1. Thank you for sharing David! It is so important to take a break from the fast pace of our world and slow down for a bit. Enjoy the little things as much as you can. I am grateful that you said the article was well written and informative. I appreciate the compliment. Again, thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

      -Alex

  3. Hi,
    It’s really wonderful what you’ve written.

    Hiking is indeed a mental solution to depression. I remember once I was sooo busy that I had spent close to 4 days at home without going out. And then for some reason, I had to go out to run some errands.

    OMG. What a relief I felt leaving home. After finishing with my errands I spent the rest of the day just moving from place to place on foot in town and felt really great!!!! Just imagine what the experience would have been like out of town!!!!!!

    I felt free. I love this wonferful post because I unconsciously used your advice, and my mental health was reboosted.

    1. Yes! Even doing simply things like walking around town can have an enormous benefit on your health. It does not have to be a long hike or walk, but you do have to start. That is the most important thing to do. It is incredibly therapeutic. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

      -Alex

  4. Hi Alex. I love the article and I looked at many of sites which covers hiking but very rarely highlight the benefits hiking can do for the mind and body, I live in Ireland and County Wicklow has some amazing views and scenery. all it takes is to find a remote part of the country and enjoys gods air, we can’t beat it 🙂

    1. Yes, there are certainly a lot of amazing places closer to you than you realize! Ireland is an incredible country with plenty of lovely trails. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day.

      -Alex

  5. My father and I did a lot of hiking in the past. He has since past away and I have not picked up the hiking again.
    I loved it and miss doing just as you said, taking one step at a time until it is done. When you get to the top or get to that area where it is truly breathtaking. That is what it is all about.
    I didn’t realize that hiking was so healing, the amount of benefits that you mentioned are wonderful. I could go on and on agreeing with you on all counts about how great it is.
    My children are now getting of the age to get around on their own very nicely. At what age do you think children can start enjoying hiking and the great outdoors?
    I will continue to check back with your wonderful site to see what type of educational information you post in the future.

    1. I am sorry to hear about your father. It is nice to know that you bonded with him through hiking. Hiking is really an experience that really brings people together. In regards to teaching your children about hiking, you should start as soon as they are physically able. You want to teach them about it in such a manner that they learn to love and appreciate the outdoors. Be sure to act as a guide for them, walking with them. Each child is different and only you know when they are best ready. It is a gut feeling. When they are ready, they will give you signs. Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day.

      -Alex

  6. This is a great article on hiking. I love hiking too and I go every week with a group of friends We usually walkabout 10- 12 kilometers . I also hike with my hubby and alone.
    There certainly is something very therapeutic about hiking. The stimulation of the senses, the physical, emotional and spiritual enrichment and the social aspect when we hike in company.
    Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed the read thoroughly which validated my need to walk/hike regularly.

    1. It great to see that this article had an impact on you Judy. Hiking is definitely a remedial, rewarding activity. Every aspect of your self is benefited from it. On top of that, it is completely empowering. I appreciate reading your thoughts on this article and I hope you make today a great day.

  7. Hey Alex, I can see we have a lot in common. I live in a place with some of the most spectacular hikes in the world (Hawaii) but I don’t take too much advantage of it because I spend most of my time here on the water (surfing). Don’t get me wrong though. I still do it. But not as much as I should. And I focus on the nice and easy ones.
    I can totally see the similarities between surfing and hiking though. They both get you in constant contact with nature, which help you getting in a meditative state, which in turn creates a lot of health benefits to the body, mind, and soul.

    1. Hawaii is an amazing place, absolutely gorgeous. The weather is incredible and the scenery is majestic. I definitely want to go hiking there at some point. I can see the similarities between hiking and surfing that you point out. Both are very therapeutic activities. I suppose I need to learn surfing now. It is always refreshing to go on a hike. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

  8. Hi Alex, a well structured and easy to read article, and above all, very true!

    I’ve been caught up in my go go go world for many years now, but yesterday I made my day a great day, and I plane to go on a hike one of these day.

    Just a short hike close to home with my 5 year old. That will be a great day too.
    And one of these weekends I plan to take both my wife and son along for a hike. That will be another great day!

    Unfortunately, there are still many go go go things in my life, but I’m actively working to make those less, and make more days great. And hiking will be part of that I think.

    1. It is wonderful to hear that you made your day a great day. That is absolutely wonderful. Hiking is certainly a hobby to better your days. It is a means of slowing down life and appreciating the moment. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this article. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Hi Alex, great article! That remind me about my teenage day i went hiking in my school days. Its have a many years ago, i haven’t go a hiking. I may plan one soon with my family. Cheers

    1. Yes, hiking does bring up many fond memories. It is nothing but good to the body, mind, and soul. I am glad to hear that you plan to go hiking with your family soon. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Great post! And I agree 🙂
    I find that walking barefoot in grass, or going on a hike and touching nature (plants or trees) just helps to “ground” me to the ground lol. I feel so much better, my mind is clearer, my problems are smaller and I find solutions faster after I have been outside walking in nature.

    1. Yes, walking barefoot outside is excellent for your body. It calms you down and centers you. The unimportant fades away and the significant come into view. Thank you for sharing Irma.

  11. Hiking is truly bring a lot of benefit for our health in mental and physical. You site noted down many useful tips for a beginner who just start to go exercise. I will mark your site in my bookmark and I look forward for your new info. Cheers for keeping our self healthy.

    Regards
    Jaden

    1. There are a lot of benefits to hiking. This is certain. I am glad to hear that you will mark this article for future reference. Thank you for sharing Jaden. I hope you make it a great day!

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