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?
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.
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.
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?
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 Final Word
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.