Advantages of Hiking

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Next to fishing down at the lake and roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire, it’s hard to imagine a more iconic camping activity than hiking: marching single file across a grassy clearing, wandering quietly in dappled shade among tall trees, and finally making it to the top of a challenging summit.

The hike is often rewarding enough, but the benefits of hiking go far beyond good vistas. Did you know that it’s good for your health, too? It’s true, and in a surprisingly large number of ways.

Categorized as an aerobic exercise, hiking can help improve:

  • Cardiorespiratory fitness including heart, lungs and blood vessels
  • Muscle strength
  • Bone density (or slow its loss)
  • Sleep quality
  • Weight control. On average hiking burns up about 250 calories an hour—and people who lose weight through hiking or walking generally maintain that loss and continue to lose, while those who depend on diets tend to gain weight back.

Tramping through the forest can also help reduce your risk for:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • High blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Colon, breast, lung and endometrial cancers
  • Depression (if so afflicted)
  • Early death studies have shown that someone who is active for seven hours a week has a 40 percent lower chance of dying early than someone active for less than 30 minutes a week.)
  • Negative effects of osteoporosis and arthritis
  • Tension and anxiety


Hiking Can Help Your Kids, Too!

Your kids are more likely to be physically fit and have a lower risk of becoming obese, developing high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. They’ll may also sleep better at night and be more alert in class. Plus, if they’re fit, they may have a greater self-confidence and be less vulnerable to schoolyard bullying.

But, before you jump out of your folding camp recliner and start for the summit of Mt. Rainer, there are a few questions you should consider.

Is It OK for Me to Go Hiking?

Though hiking is one of the lowest impact sports, check with your doctor before you hit the trails, especially if you’re over 35, have been a couch potato for several years or have high blood pressure. Your physician can offer the best guidance on working up to a 12-hour trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, for example. In general, it’s best to start with an easy walk and gradually increase the challenge.

How Much Time Do I Have?

Hiking isn’t just for weekends in the backcountry or your annual two-week road trip. You can sneak in a short 20-minute walk up that hill near your office several times a week. Experts say that being active for just two and a half hours a week can gain you a world of benefit. And if you participate in other activities, such as dancing, swimming or cycling, these all add up to your target of 150 minutes of exercise a week.

Keep a simple record of the amount of time you spend hiking. is a great place to track your workouts. You’ll be amazed at how much incentive you have when you can watch your progress.

hiking boots

Do I Need Special Equipment?

Never leave your campsite, even for a short hike, without at least one bottle of water. Experts recommend at least 2 quarts of water for a hike lasting up to four hours, as you constantly lose moisture to perspiration. You should drink one-half to one cup of water every half hour, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Upon your return, you should have finished both quarts of water and have a need to use the restroom. If you don’t, then you lost all that water to sweating so you’ll still need to re-hydrate.

Other things to bring include:

  • A comfortable pair of walking or hiking shoes
  • Moisture-absorbing socks
  • Appropriate attire (watch for possible weather changes)
  • A hat or visor
  • Sun block
  • A snack
  • Cell phone or GPS

While the idea of lugging a mobile phone with you while out communing with nature might make you grit your teeth, it doesn’t hurt to throw it in your daypack…just in case.

What Are Some Other Benefits of Hiking?

While getting personal with nature and shedding unwanted pounds are great for improving general health, hiking is also terrific for overall body toning. Constant movement in your shoulders, arms, abdominals, hips, butt, legs, knees and ankles help contribute to tighter muscles.

Plus, hiking is great for “clearing the head.” Researchers have shown that short-term memory works better when walking than standing still. Learning and reasoning also improve, as do emotional moods. No wonder cranky people are told to “go take a hike!”

Lace Up and Start Walking

Whether it’s getting to places in our national, state and local forests, accessing wilderness areas and campgrounds that are inaccessible by motor vehicle, or improving your physical and mental well being, nothing beats a good long hike. So get out there, get moving, and start cashing in on the abundant benefits of hiking!

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