Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows I share a lot of images from the trails. In his book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens at the End, Atul Gawande asks when is the price of living no longer worth the dividend? For me, it would be difficult to imagine a life without a walk in the woods.
Eight hours of work related stress can be wiped away by 30 minutes of hiking. An hour in the woods renews and invigorates me. Two hours on my favorite trail, up and down hills, around two lakes, and dodging tree roots, leaves me physically and mentally in better shape than when I started.
Benefit One: Exercise
- Hiking can be a great cardio exercise. Sure, you can do the same on the treadmill, but a difficult trail with varied terrain is hard to beat.
- Lowers risk of heart disease
- Lowers blood pressure
- Known to control or even cure type two diabetes. I have type two but through diet and hiking I’ve kept it under control.
- Strength conditioning – Not only lower body, but the entire package.
- Weight control – I shudder at the thought of what my weight might be without the trails.
Benefit Two: Stress Relief
I love being on the trails and enjoy the physicality of it, but I could get that at my local high school’s track. What brings me back time and time again is the commune with nature. The combination of low impact physical activity combined with the great outdoors is mood altering.
Stress and anxiety relief – Whenever I find myself overwrought, anxious, or worried the trails are the best prescription I know.
Mood lift – Even when I’m in a good place hiking lifts my spirits higher.
Energy boost – If you exercise you’ve experienced an energy boost at the end of a workout. But the boost at the end of a hike is something more. It’s not only a physical boost, but spiritually uplifting.
Where Can You Hike?
There’s a 3900-acre city park ten minutes from my home, Eagle Creek Park. Or I can walk through my subdivision to a creek and trails only a short distance from my home. The state of Indiana has many parks with trails of varying degrees of difficulty. If you look, you’ll find plenty of choices in your neck of the woods too.
Look for parks that are close – Finding a spot to hike only a few minutes from home or work makes it easy to head to the woods and hard to make excuses.
Hills are good – It might seem counterintuitive but hiking up and down hills adds to my enjoyment. I might get winded but feel better for it.
Varied terrain – Not only hills, but smooth paths, rough places, near water, or in the deep woods all add to the pleasure of hiking.
Why Does Hiking Raise Our Spirits?
Beyond the gain I receive from physical activity, and the release of endorphins, I feel at home on the trails. Being in nature feels, well, natural. The sound of the woods, crickets, and squirrels, the wind through the trees, the rush of a waterfall, or the swish of a white tail deer are calming.
I drive hiking companions a little crazy because I often stop and say, smell this, taste this, or ask if they know the story behind a particular plant. It’s fun (at least for me), and it feels great.
Take a Hike!
The next time you’re feeling a little stressed, worried, or anxious take a hike. Commit 30 minutes to your local park, walk along the nearest creek, or head to the woods behind your sub-division. I’ll guarantee you’ll feel better and your mood will be improved. If you’re close to Speedway, IN give me a shout, I’ll take you on one of my trails but know this, I will stop and point out the fauna.
Here’s an excellent post on how to hike from the Mayo Clinic.