There are times during the year when living in the Deep South has its challenges. The hot, humid summer can be one of those times for those of us who like the outdoors. ‘You know it’s hot…’ when the weather man calls for forecasts that sound more like cooking instructions – baking, boiling, roasting, steaming, and sizzling. It’s no wonder the thought of fall and the eventual drop in temperatures and humidity can be a welcome relief. What better time to think about taking a hike?
If ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’ (according to Mark Twain), hiking, it seems, is walking therapy for body, mind and spirit. In fact, walking meditation is a common Buddhist practice with the simple goal of being ‘present’ with every step we take. A long hike not only gets our blood flowing and has some significant physical benefits for the body, but it also refreshes the mind and nourishes the soul.
Hiking can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Taking a hike can help keep your cardiovascular system healthy. Regular exercise, such as hiking, helps elevate your high-density lipoprotein levels and lower your triglyceride levels. This reduces your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Hiking helps prevent and control diabetes. Regular exercise helps to control, or even prevent, diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. Hiking gives your muscles a workout, which removes glucose from your bloodstream for energy. Consult your doctor before taking up hiking or any new exercise to be sure it is safe and to determine if your diabetes medications need to be adjusted when you hike regularly.
Hiking can increase your energy level. Aerobic activities such as hiking bring extra oxygen and fuel to your muscles, organs and other body tissues. This extra oxygen and fuel provides a boost that strengthens your muscles and lungs, while increasing your endurance, alertness and energy level.
Hiking burns calories. Adopting a regular hiking regimen can help keep your weight under control by burning calories. According to Diabetic Lifestyle, “at a slow pace of 2 miles per hour, a 150-pound person burns approximately 240 calories per hour.” New to regular hiking? Start slowly and work up to 30 minutes to 60 minutes daily.
Hiking increases your bone density. Hiking can be a helpful strategy for fighting osteoporosis and arthritis. Hiking regularly helps develop strong bones and slow bone loss. If you have arthritis, the CDC says 150 minutes of hiking per week keeps your joints flexible and helps stave off the joint stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.
Hiking lowers your cancer risk. Hiking can even help decrease your chances of developing some cancers. There is a lower risk of breast cancer and colon cancer associated with regular physical exercise, and it may also decrease your risk of lung and endometrial cancers.
Hiking can help you sleep better. If you suffer from insomnia, you may find you sleep better after taking an invigorating hike. Hike regularly, get to sleep faster, stay asleep longer and enjoy a more refreshing, rejuvenating sleep.
Hiking is a great way to get vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient to keeping your muscles and bones strong. Although vitamin D is available in many fortified foods, the best source is the sun. Just 10 minutes of direct sunshine daily is all you need to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D.
Hiking can elevate your mood. A hike through a beautiful wooded area can calm your nerves and lift your spirits. Take a scenic hike to relieve stress and forget your worries for a while. Hiking with a group provides an excellent opportunity to socialize and exchange ideas with others.
Hiking helps you be in the present. It’s hard not be present when it’s just you and the world, putting one foot in front of the other, breathing in, and breathing out. You can let go of your thoughts and just be.
Hiking can help relieve stress. Studies have shown that being in nature is not only a great stress reliever, but can help lower your risk of depression. Taking outdoor walks may not only improve daily positive emotions, but it can also lessen the need for mood enhancing medications for conditions like depression.
Hiking can help you be more self-aware. Creating some physical distance between your daily stressors of work, relationships, family responsibilities, finances, etc., can help you come to important realizations about yourself.
Hiking helps you appreciate nature. When you rush from home to work, commitment to commitment, and then back again to begin it all over, we can’t see the forest or the trees. Immersing ourselves in nature makes us aware of its wonder and helps us realize we are a part of the amazing natural world.
Hiking nourishes the soul. Whatever our faith or belief system, it’s impossible not to feel the power and majesty of creation when we allow ourselves to spend time in nature. The benefits of hiking go beyond improvement of physical and emotional health to something deeper that we feel on a spiritual level. Think of it as rehabilitation for the soul.