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Why hiking is so freaking good for you

There’s something inherently lame about explaining the health benefits of hiking. Mainly because the reasons most of us love hiking go way beyond the health rewards.

You know: epic views, fresh mountain air, the sounds and smells of mother nature, the oddly soothing sensation of dirt and snow crunching under your hiking boots.

But we thought some of you might be interested in learning why hiking is so good for your health. So we’ve outlined the healthy things that happen inside your body, heart, and mind while you’re tramping through trails and soaking in the vistas. Here goes:

Hiking is really good for your brain

It’s a scientific fact: Going for long, serene hikes is ridiculously good for your brain. In fact, walking through mother nature exercises your mind just as much as it works out your body.

If you want to nerd out for a bit…

When you hike, brain-derived neurotrophic factor is released (BDNF). This stimulates neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons). Basically, BDNF is Miracle Grow for your noggin. And every time you hit the trails, you’re nourishing the spongy goodness that is your brain.

Hiking gets the creative juices flowing

Nature is one of the few places where you can let go of technology and be completely in the moment. Where you can break free from formalities and deadlines and enjoy what’s around you. And unless you’re snapping a quick picture at a viewpoint or taking a photo after summiting, odds are you really aren’t thinking about your phone while hiking.

According to one study, spending time outdoors can increase your attention span and creativity by as much as 50 percent. What’s more, research shows that these benefits can last after the hike is over. Researchers have even gone so far as to say nature can restore and replenish modules of the “executive attentional system.”

In short, unplugging from technology and engaging with mother nature can be a powerful (and even necessary) activity for your brain. Plus, it also just makes you really happy.

Hiking is the ultimate cardio workout

Hiking boasts all of the classic health benefits you get from most cardio exercises. It improves blood pressure, lowers your risk of heart disease, decreases cholesterol, and helps control your weight.

Also, for all the calorie counters out there: One mile of hiking burns, on average, over 500 calories (that’s pretty friggin’ good).

Hiking is worlds apart from walking

On the surface, hiking and walking may seem like super similar exercises because the body mechanics are basically the same. But what happens inside of you during these two distinct activities -- in your muscles, joints, and heart -- is worlds apart.

While walking on flat terrain requires little effort -- it’s one foot in front of the other -- walking on uneven terrain is a dynamic workout that increases your heart rate and metabolic rate, causing calories to burn faster.

And because you’re shifting your weight, balancing your body, and walking at awkward (and sometimes extreme) angles, hiking causes you to engage and strengthen muscles you wouldn’t use otherwise. As a result, you’ll notice a lot of hikers have strong hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves.

And while hiking isn’t without its risks, it can be less taxing on your joints and tendons than some other workouts, like road running. Most trails are softer on the body than asphalt or concrete, specifically on the ankles, knees, and hips. So hiking can also be a more sustainable way to stay in shape.

Hiking heals

It’s no secret that hiking benefits cardiovascular health and makes people physically stronger, but hiking may also enhance our health in other ways.

Hiking may help prevent, and aid recovery from, cancer

Oxidative stress -- believed to be one of the causes of the onset, progression, and recurrence of cancer -- was measured in women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer in this study from the National Institute of Health. Researchers found that long-distance hikes improved antioxidative levels in the blood of oncological patients. We’re not saying hiking cures cancer, but mother nature can work in mysterious ways.

Longer workouts = Longer life expectancy

Seven hours of physical activity a week...that’s apparently the new benchmark for heart health and living a long, happy life. According to this study, adults who do more than seven hours of physical activity a week have a longer life expectancy.

That’s a lot of hours each week...

We agree, 7 hours is a lot. You can look at this a couple of ways: You can work out for an hour every day (which is sometimes very tough to do...ugh, especially Tuesdays), or you can work out a few times a week and do a long hike over the weekend.

While hiking isn’t necessarily a leisurely activity, it’s typically a longer exercise than, say, lifting weights.

So, where are you gonna take your next hike?

As always, if you have any questions about your plan, services, or benefits, please contact our friendly Friday Care Crew.