Enjoy the Outdoors and Health Benefits Simultaneously
With summer in full swing, outdoor physical activities become even more appealing. One great choice is hiking, which is one of the simplest and most affordable forms of exercise. Essentially, hiking means taking a walk, and virtually anyone can enjoy hiking with a good pair of shoes and a water bottle. From a brisk walk through the park to a steady trek through mountain trails, hiking provides health benefits for all comfort levels.
Hiking, at any level of difficulty, has tremendous rewards. From weight control to preventing heart disease, the positive effects of hiking are numerous.
The American Heart Association notes that when hiking at a comfortable two-mph pace, a person weighing 150 pounds will burn about 240 calories in an hour. For people with arthritis, hiking can be an ideal form of exercise because it puts minimal stress on the joints while also strengthening leg muscles, which can take some of the pressure off of the knee joints.
Hiking has great benefits for the heart. By moving at a rapid pace, hiking provides an aerobic workout, which tones the heart and also reduces blood pressure, taking stress off the heart. Furthermore, hiking decreases cholesterol levels, helping to prevent heart disease. The most common and clearly perceived health benefit reported is the disappearance or enormous decrease in back pain.
Hiking is also good for mental rejuvenation. As with other forms of exercise, hiking releases endorphins and adrenaline, which relieve tension and anxiety. Darah Burkett, co-founder of Chattanooga Trekkers, says, “The number one health benefit is stress relief. It gets families away from daily stresses and kids away from triggers like television and video games.” Burkett, who regularly leads family hikes with her three-year-old son in tow, says that hikes tend to “take out all the noise of daily life.”
Susan Faidley, leader with the Chattanooga Hiking Club and certified Leave No Trace instructor, says, “Walking the trails is an absolutely wonderful way to find spiritual renewal. Wildflowers and birdsong, waterfalls and wildlife, and the forest of green are all there to be enjoyed.” She goes on to say, “One of the greatest benefits I have discovered is the camaraderie that comes from sharing these amazing experiences with friends.”
Remember that when hiking for pleasure or for exercise, safety is of utmost importance. Wearing proper shoes, access to plenty of drinking water and knowing your limits are just a few of the essentials. The overall number one rule is, “Never hike alone,” Faidley says. “Always leave your hiking itinerary with a family member who knows when to expect you home.”
Also, choose your terrain, pace, and hike length appropriately according to your skill and comfort level. Local hiking and outdoor associations such as the Chattanooga Hiking Club, the Chattanooga Trekkers, and Outdoor Chattanooga are great resources for finding the best fit for you.
If you choose more advanced hiking, keep in mind that these trips require more preparation, more gear and more safety precautions. The American Hiking Society recommends packing the following items for more advanced excursions:
Must-Haves for Advanced Excursions
- Map of the area
- Flashlight (with extra batteries and spare bulb)
- Extra food
- Extra clothing, including rainwear
- Sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellent
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Candle or other fire starter
- First aid kit (including Benadryl for stings)
With safety in mind, summer is an ideal time to get outside and do some hiking. Whether a 20-minute or all-day hike, your body and mind will thank you.