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Hiking – So Good for the Body and the Mind

Author: Medifast California

April 24, 2017

Hiking – So Good for the Body and the Mind

Author: Medifast California

April 24, 2017

 

Being more active is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle and especially while on your weight loss journey. This doesn’t mean having to find intense activities that will leave you aching for days. In fact, it’s best to find an activity that you actually like and want to do regularly, whether that is swimming, playing softball or going for a run.

Hiking is a great way to stay active and get some exercise. Getting outside and hitting the trails has many physical and mental benefits, especially when done regularly. Experts say that only 150 minutes of moderate activity each week (2.5 hours a week, or 30 minutes a day for 5 days) is enough to reap the benefits of regular exercise. Moderate activity is when you can still talk while exercising. If you must stop talking multiple times in order to take a deep breath, your activity has crossed over to vigorous intensity.

Physical Benefits of Hiking

Hiking is a fantastic exercise for the body. Not only is it an aerobic exercise that strengthens the heart muscle, but the varying terrain challenges your balance and core and strengthens nearly every muscle in your body as well. Some of these physical benefits include:

  • Improved heart health: Hiking has been associated with better heart, blood vessel and lung health. This can lower your risk of heart disease, including heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Improved muscle strength: Hiking uses all of the muscles in your body, not just those in your legs. Your core is actively engaged as your body balances up and down hills and over rough terrain. Swinging your arms can also work the muscles in your arms and shoulders.
  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes: Regular exercise helps to improve insulin sensitivity and helps to burn excess calories, both of which can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
  • Lower risk for cancers: You risk for developing certain cancers, including colon, breast and possibly lung and endometrial, are reduced with regular exercise.
  • Improved sleep: Spending time outdoors and being active can make you tired and help you get much needed rest at night.
  • Increased bone density: Women with osteoporosis or who are at risk for osteoporosis can benefit from regular cardiovascular and strength training exercise. Regular movement can improve bone density or slow its loss.
  • Weight control: Moderate hiking can burn up to around 250 calories per hour. Walking uphill or at an increased pace can boost that calorie burn, helping you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

 

As always, it is best to see your doctor before beginning any regular exercise program to be sure that you are healthy enough to participate.

Mental Benefits of Hiking

Hiking doesn’t just benefit you physically. There are many mental and emotional benefits to hiking outdoors as well. Hiking is a natural stress reliever. In addition to the psychological benefits of simply moving more, spending time outdoors in a green space can ease stress levels.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that people who walked in nature for just 90 minutes had lesser brain activity in an area of the brain associated with depression. And this makes sense—millions of people live in a city, disconnected from nature and the natural environment. People living in this type of urban environment have a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. Reconnecting with nature may help to minimize that risk.

Getting Started

Getting started on a hiking habit has never been easier, especially for a beginning hiker. There are many different types of trails, ranging from easy, paved and flat all the way to an intense mountain climb. Start with a trail that is relatively flat, and gradually increase your intensity. By not doing too much too soon, you reduce your risk for injury and also increase your odds for long-term success.

Despite hiking being a healthy activity, it is still important to consider several safety issues whenever you hit the trails. Make sure that someone knows where you are going and a general time when you will be back. This way, if anything happens on the trails, someone knows where to start looking for you. If possible, try hiking with a friend or partner. Not only is it fun to have company while exercising, but it’s safer to be out with another person, in case of an emergency.

It’s also important to be dressed appropriately, including well-fitting hiking boots or shoes and weather appropriate clothing. Make sure to stay hydrated and carry a sufficient amount of water for the hike and temperature (i.e. more if it’s a particularly hot day). Keep an eye on the weather, too—consider skipping your hike if the day is too hot or if storms are predicted.

The Bottom Line

Go ahead and try something new! Even if you’ve never been hiking, get out of your comfort zone and hit the trails. If hiking seems overwhelming, start with a simple walk through a local park until you feel more comfortable. You can also find a local hiking club—make sure to check them out and ask a lot of questions to make sure that it’s a good match for you. What is the difficulty level for their hikes? Is it appropriate for beginners? When do they meet? It’s a great way to meet new friends and live an active lifestyle!

About the Author:

Medifast California
The team at Medifast California
The team at Medifast California is committed to practicing what they preach. Experts in nutrition, health, counseling and exercise, they have the experience and tools to offer the support you need when you need it!

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