As the spring starts to roll in and the weather is getting nicer, you may be looking for ways to get a good workout in while also enjoying the great outdoors. An easy and fun way to get in a great workout outdoors is to go for a hike. But you may be wondering, is hiking good exercise? Short answer: You’re damn right it is!
Although it may not be the first activity that comes to mind when wanting to add some cardio and a full-body routine workout into your day, hiking can give your body a great all-around workout while even benefiting your mental health as well.
Why Hiking is Good Exercise
One incredible benefit of hiking, and outdoor workouts in general, is the ability to push yourself harder than doing cardio on a treadmill while also feeling less tired at the end of the workout. At first thought, that may sound counterintuitive. How could you possibly push yourself harder and burn more calories while also feeling less drained? Studies have attributed this to feeling a greater sense of pleasure during and after the hike, making it seem easier and more enjoyable (we’re also fully aware that finding a more fun alternative to spending time on the treadmill may not be the world’s most difficult challenge…)
Hiking also is a killer way to strengthen your muscles and build endurance as well.
The first muscle group most people think of when it comes to hiking is your legs. Since hiking most often involves changes in terrain and elevation, you're constantly engaging your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. When you’re going up an incline, it can mimic the effects of climbing stairs. When going downhill, you’re having to focus much more on controlled movements to prevent you from falling. These movements essentially give you the same effect of slowly lowering a weight in the gym, like when doing squats. While there probably isn't as much weight as there might be in the gym, you’re still adding resistance with your body weight (and extra gear if you’re carrying any), but you’re mostly likely not resting as often so you’re not giving your muscles the same time to recover by moving more constantly.
Another muscle group that will benefit greatly from your hike is your core. Traversing the uneven terrain requires you to activate your core to keep you stabilized and on your feet. Adding a bag or extra weight will engage it even more since you’ve got more weight than usual and it can shift in unpredictable ways.
Another awesome bi-product of hiking is you’ll also boost your endurance. While you’ll be challenging yourself with distance and pace, feeling less fatigued and enjoying your exercise more helps you keep going longer. If you’re hiking in an area at high altitudes, this can also help you adapt to exercising in more low-oxygen environments, which allows your body to go for longer periods before feeling fatigue set in. This can translate into added endurance for runs, bike rides, and other activities as well!
Benefits of Hiking
There are a ton of benefits of hiking. Physically, mentally, and more. Hiking is an activity that can be done at basically any fitness level, can be as challenging or easy as you want it to be, can be done solo or socially, and doesn’t require much to get started. The biggest constraint to hiking is just being in the right area to do it.
Whether you’re just getting started on your fitness journey or you’re a certified health nut looking to push their body to the limits, hiking can still deliver a great workout. If you’re a beginner, you can always slow down the pace, pack lighter, and take breaks as often as you need to. For those wanting more of a challenge, you can add weight to your gear for more resistance, pick up the pace, or try to go even further. The change in terrain can also help burn more calories than just walking on a flat surface, so you can get even more out of your stroll in nature!
There’s just something about taking a walk through the woods or the mountains that leaves you feeling refreshed. Being outside has been found to provide great benefits for mental health. Seeing breathtaking views or the beautiful scenery during your hike has been reported to lower stress levels and boost your happiness. Not to mention that you’ll also be soaking up some Vitamin D from those rays of sunshine.
Now that you’re feeling energized and ready to hit the trails, it is important to be prepared so you can enjoy it to the fullest and minimize risk.
Dressing for the occasion can help mitigate your chances for injury and make the experience much more enjoyable. You’ll want to wear apparel that is made suitable for the weather (bring layers if you need them) and can handle the challenge, such as moisture-wicking materials. You’ll also want to be sure to bring the right footwear. A closed toe that offers ankle-support and has great traction can help keep you on your feet and feeling good. (If you’re looking for a stylish and sustainable option, we recommend the Via!) Depending on the terrain or your comfort level, you may also want to bring poles to help with stability and balance!
As with any physical activity, you’ll need to stay hydrated and fueled up. Make sure to pack water and bringing an extra snack won’t hurt. It can also be super helpful to bring your phone or a form of communication in case things unfortunately go wrong. Different trails will call for different supplies and preparations.
And there you have it. If you’re looking for a fun way to burn some extra calories while enjoying the great outdoors, take a hike!