If you know anything about me then you know that my favorite way to spend any day is outside. I love to soak up nature. My husband and I developed a love of hiking in our first year of marriage when we moved to wild and wonderful West Virginia. We were on a lean budget and hiking is a free way to enjoy the best this world has!
Next, we spent 5 years hiking the mountains of eastern TN and western NC. Finally, last summer we got to spend 13 weeks hiking out West and knocking off places like the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier NP, and other random trails throughout Montana and Wyoming. We’ve hiked along oceanside trails on the East coast, through the Ireland countryside, and in the Swiss Alps. The more we hike the more I realize the benefits of hiking.
Hiking has brought us closer together and allowed us to see remote parts of the country by foot. We’ve summited mountains, hiked to the top of waterfalls, and done simple hikes around town on weeknights. I can’t even imagine everything we would’ve missed out on if we didn’t lace up our boots and start walking. However, more than all of the amazing places we have seen, I’ve noticed an undeniable trend in how hiking makes me feel.
Hiking helps me to feel in tune with myself, calms my anxiety, and brings me to a place of peace where I can recognize the beauty, blessings, and grace of God. Knowing how good hiking left me feeling led me to research the benefits of hiking.
4 Unexpected Benefits of Hiking
1. Hiking Fosters Positive Self Thoughts
According to a study published in the PNAS, researchers found that a 90 minute walk in nature reduced rumination (which basically amounts to negative self thoughts and obsessive worrying), whereas a 90 minute walk in urban development had no influence. However, it doesn’t stop there. The study actually also found that after the nature walk, brain activity was decreased in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is linked to an increased risk of mental illness.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, exercise has helped promote mental wellness for me more than anything. I definitely notice a difference in my mood after a day spent hiking or a weekend trip in nature.
2. Hiking Boosts Creativity
Did you know that a hike in the woods can actually help increase creativity? Most of us spend way too much time on our electronic devices, and there are now studies that prove that a walk outdoors can give us a creative boost. In fact, a study published in PLOS One shows that a 4 day nature immersion, as well as disconnecting from electronics, can increase creativity 50%. Maybe you don’t have a full four days to go camping, but you would be surprised what an afternoon of unplugging and hiking can do for your creativity!
I’ve definitely noticed I feel more creative after Casey and I spend a weekend in nature. Walking for hours through nature seems to turn off that “monkey brain” for me and helps me get to deeper thinking and problem solving.
3. Hiking Aids in Physical Healing
Sometimes when I’m doing research for a post, I find something that truly surprises and completely inspires me. It’s a wonderful feeling to research and write about something you are passionate about, and then actually come away from it even more inspired. That’s exactly what happened as I read this study. Researchers actually found that long distance hiking has the ability to improve the antioxidant capacity in cancer patients! While we may more likely think of the physical benefits as related to muscle building or of cardiac capacity (see number 4), this adds a whole knew dimension to the physical benefits of hiking.
4. Hiking is an Effective Cardio Workout
Ok, so maybe this isn’t unexpected, BUT you might be surprised to realize hiking can offer as much cardiovascular benefit as jogging. The intensity can vary depending on the length of your hike and incline level. It can especially be challenging up in the mountains, or if you beyond that concrete “nature trail” around the visitor center 😉. It’s a fun way to get in a workout while sightseeing or self-reflecting. Best of all, with all the visual and auditory stimulation nature provides, you won’t even notice your heart rate increasing.
Lace Up Your Boots and Discover the Benefits of Hiking!
Let the phrase “Take a hike!” take on a whole new meaning for you. Grab your family and go for a hike at a local park. Check out a new state park (or if you have one nearby, a national park)! I’m always impressed by all the hikers that hike with their entire family when we hop on the Appalachian trail. We used to go to a favorite trailhead near where we lived and there would always be families hiking with small kids and towing little babies in hiking carriers. Whether you take your next hike solo, with a friend, or your entire family, I hope that you experience all of the benefits of hiking!