Although low-intensity, walking is certainly a form of exercise, and that means it increases your cardiovascular activity (your heart rate). This creates a chain reaction in the body ranging from increased blood circulation, to boosted brain activity and function. Walking for just 30 minutes a day has been shown to improve mood, reduce your risk of many diseases and improve your sleep quality.
Hiking takes the physical benefits of walking to new levels. Hiking brings in fresh countryside air, rougher terrain, and often steep hill climbs to really work those legs. A backpack filled with your hiking essentials will also add extra resistance. The biggest impact of daily walking and, or hiking, is the effect it will have on your mood.
The psychological benefits of hiking begin with those associated with walking, or more generally exercise, but also provide the mental benefits of being amongst nature. Alongside boosted brain activity and cognitive function, exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins are a feel-good hormone that do exactly what they says on the tin, make you feel good. They also reduce the stress hormone cortisol and hinder feelings of anxiety or depression; these negative emotions are often due to overthinking, particularly about negative things.
While exercise alone reduces overthinking, hiking in nature combines exercise with beautiful views, fresh air and wildlife activity which you can focus your wandering mind upon. While the walking itself provides these benefits too, the same benefits are not reached walking through a city. The benefits of hiking in nature are due to the quieter, prettier and less stressful environment which has been proven to have a positive impact on mental health.
Hiking certainly doesn’t need to be a task you take up alone. Join friends on your nature trails, moorland walks and summit climbs to share conversations, experiences and memories. You may even meet new friends along the way; many well-known hiking trails are littered with campsites, B&Bs, pubs and museums or historic sites to visit.
If the physical, psychological and social benefits aren’t enough, you can also benefit with some digital attention for your hiking efforts. Who doesn’t want a profile pic at the cairn on Pen y Van, or standing hillside with the winding Cuckmere River in the background. Just remember to pack your smartphone and maybe a battery charging pack, but don’t forget a waterproof bag to pop it in, or even better, a waterproof backpack.
The health benefits of hiking are numerous, from physical and social to psychological, which of course are all linked. Most importantly, it can remind you of our age old link to nature and the way in which spending time within it can clear our minds of the daily rat-race and reset our perspectives during times of stress.