Last updated: November 9, 2023
Is hiking good exercise? Yes absolutely! Hiking is a wonderful way to stay active, enjoy the outdoors, and improve both your physical and mental health.
I’ve been hiking for most of my life, in all parts of the world. In my very biased opinion, it’s one of the most rewarding and healthiest hobbies you can have.
What exactly is hiking? Hiking is walking outdoors on trails or paths in forests, mountains, or parks. It can be done individually or in groups, and can range in difficulty from easy to strenuous, depending on the terrain and length of the hike.
Is Hiking a Good Exercise?
Hiking is simply a fantastic workout for several reasons. It can be tailored to suit any fitness level, and the varied terrain and scenery can make it a more engaging and enjoyable alternative to other forms of exercise. Such that it feels less like exercise and more like adventure.
It’s an excellent way to stay active and have fun in the great outdoors.
Physical Benefits of Hiking
Hiking exercise benefits include all aspects of physical fitness.
1. Cardiovascular health
Hiking is an excellent cardiovascular workout because it gets the heart pumping and increases blood circulation throughout the body. When you hike, your heart rate increases, and your breathing becomes deeper and faster, which improves your overall cardiovascular endurance.
The inclines and declines of the terrain also challenge your heart and lungs, as your body needs to work harder to pump blood and oxygen to the muscles.
It’s one of the best, and most enjoyable, forms of cardio exercise in my opinion.
2. Increased strength and endurance
Hiking can increase your strength and endurance because it challenges your muscles in several ways. First, hiking involves walking over varied terrain, which requires your leg muscles to work harder than they would on flat ground.
Uphill sections of the trail require more effort from your leg muscles, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, while downhill sections challenge your balance and require your muscles to work eccentrically to control your movement.
Hiking is good trekking exercise as well. In fact, there is no better exercise for trekking than hiking, although resistance training is also desirable. The two together are a fantastic combination of exercises for trekking training.
3. Better balance and coordination
Hiking can improve your balance and coordination because it requires you to navigate uneven terrain and maintain stability while walking over rocks, roots, and other obstacles.
On more challenging trails, you’re forced to engage your core muscles to maintain balance, while stepping over and around obstacles requires you to coordinate your movements and adjust your balance quickly.
Additionally, hiking involves using your body in different ways, such as stepping laterally, stepping up and down, and moving over uneven surfaces. These movements challenge your neuromuscular system and help improve your overall balance and coordination.
The beauty of it is that the more you hike, the better you will become at these movements, which will translate to better balance and coordination in your everyday life.
4. Weight management
Hiking can help in weight management because it is a form of aerobic exercise that can burn a significant number of calories. When you hike, your body burns calories to fuel your muscles and maintain your heart rate and breathing.
The number of calories burned during a hike depends on factors like your body weight, the length and intensity of the hike, and the terrain you are hiking on.
Hiking can also help with weight management because it can be a more enjoyable and sustainable form of exercise than other activities. People who enjoy it may be more likely to stick with it over the long term, leading to more consistent exercise habits and better weight management results.
Finally, hiking can contribute to weight management by reducing stress levels. Stress is a common contributor to weight gain, and hiking in natural environments can be a great way to relieve stress and improve overall wellbeing, potentially reducing the likelihood of overeating and weight gain.
5. Improved bone density
Hiking can improve bone density because it is a weight-bearing exercise that puts stress on the bones, stimulating them to become stronger. When you hike, your body weight is constantly shifting from one leg to the other, causing your bones to absorb the stress of impact.
This stress signals the bones to remodel themselves, leading to increased bone density over time.
6. Improves quality of sleep
I always sleep like a baby after a day of hiking, and I know I’m not alone.
Hiking can improve the quality of your sleep because it exposes you to natural light and fresh air, which can help regulate your circadian rhythms and improve your mood.
Exposure to natural light helps regulate your body’s internal clock, which controls when you feel awake and when you feel sleepy. By hiking outdoors, you can reset your body’s internal clock, which can lead to better sleep at night.
In addition to natural light exposure, hiking can also help reduce stress and anxiety, leading to better sleep. Being in nature and engaging in physical activity can help lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone that can interfere with sleep quality.
7. Improves immune function
Hiking can improve your immune function because it promotes physical activity, reduces stress levels, and exposes you to fresh air and sunlight, all of which can have positive effects on the immune system.
Regular physical activity has been shown to boost the production of antibodies and T-cells, which are key components of the immune system that help fight off infections and diseases.
In addition to physical activity, hiking can also reduce stress levels, which can have a positive effect on immune function. High levels of stress can suppress the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight off infections.
Hiking provides a break from the stresses of daily life, allowing the body to relax and recover, which can improve immune function.
Finally, hiking exposes you to fresh air and sunlight, which can also have positive effects on the immune system. Fresh air can help clear the respiratory system and promote better breathing, while sunlight provides vitamin D, a nutrient that is essential for immune function.
Besides great exercise, what does hiking do for you?
In addition to physical fitness, hiking provides a number of mental health benefits.
8. Reduced stress and anxiety
Hiking can reduce stress and anxiety because it provides a break from the stresses of daily life, promotes physical activity, and exposes you to natural surroundings, which can have a calming effect on the mind and body.
When you hike, you are engaging in physical activity that releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals that can reduce stress and anxiety.
In addition to the physical benefits of hiking, being in nature can have a positive effect on mental health. Studies have shown that spending time in natural environments can lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone that can interfere with sleep, digestion, and immune function.
Exposure to natural surroundings can also have a calming effect on the mind, reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. I find time outside especially helpful during the winter.
9. Improved mood
Hiking can improve your mood because it promotes physical activity, provides exposure to natural surroundings, and can lead to a sense of accomplishment and mastery.
Physical activity, including hiking, has been shown to increase the production of endorphins, which are natural chemicals that can improve mood and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
In addition to the physical benefits of hiking, being in nature can have a positive effect on mental health. Exposure to natural surroundings can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, leading to an overall improvement in mood.
10. Increased creativity
Hiking can improve your creativity because it provides a break from routine, promotes physical activity, and exposes you to natural surroundings, which can stimulate the imagination.
Hiking can also provide a sense of adventure and exploration, which can stimulate the imagination and lead to creative thinking. Exploring new environments and experiencing new sensations can inspire new ideas and perspectives, leading to improved creativity.
Finally, hiking can provide a sense of solitude and peace, which can be conducive to creative thinking. The quiet and peaceful environment of nature can help you tune out distractions and focus on creative problem-solving.
11. Enhanced cognitive function
Hiking can enhance cognitive function because it promotes physical activity, reduces stress levels, and exposes you to natural surroundings, all of which can have positive effects on the brain.
Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain, leading to improved memory, attention, and processing speed.
12. Reduced symptoms of ADHD
Hiking can also reduce symptoms of ADHD because it provides physical activity, exposure to natural surroundings, and can reduce stress levels, all of which have been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD.
Physical activity, including hiking, has been shown to improve symptoms of ADHD by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain, leading to improved cognitive function, focus, and attention.
Hiking can reduce symptoms of ADHD by providing a break from routine and promoting sensory stimulation. The sensory experience of hiking, including the sights, sounds, and smells of nature, can stimulate the brain and reduce symptoms of ADHD by promoting focus and attention.
13. Improved self-esteem and confidence
Hiking can increase confidence and self-esteem because it provides a sense of accomplishment and mastery, promotes physical fitness, and exposes you to natural surroundings, all of which can have positive effects on self-image and self-worth.
When you hike, you set goals, achieve them, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. This can lead to a sense of accomplishment and mastery, which can boost self-confidence and self-esteem.
The feeling of overcoming obstacles and challenges during a hike can lead to a sense of pride and satisfaction, which can contribute to improved self-image.
In addition to the mental benefits of hiking, physical fitness can also have a positive effect on self-esteem. Hiking is an activity that can improve strength, endurance, and cardiovascular health.
Seeing progress and improvement in physical fitness can also contribute to improved self-image and self-worth.
14. Connect with community
One of the great things about hiking is that it can be done alone or with others. When hiking with others, you have the opportunity to meet new people with similar interests and share experiences and knowledge.
Hiking groups and clubs are also available in many areas and can be a great way to connect with like-minded individuals.
In addition to meeting new people, hiking can also provide opportunities for community service and environmental stewardship. Many hiking groups and clubs organize trail maintenance events, which lets you to give back to the community and make a positive impact on the environment.
Hiking can also promote social connections and a sense of belonging. When hiking with others, you can share stories, laughter, and common experiences, leading to the formation of strong and meaningful connections.
These connections can extend beyond the trail and lead to the formation of lasting friendships and a sense of belonging within a community.
15. Promotes mindfulness
Your mind is usually focused on the present moment when hiking, on the sights, sounds, and smells of the environment. This reduces mental clutter and promotes relaxation. It provides a break from the constant stimulation and distraction of everyday life, allowing the mind to rest and rejuvenate.
Hiking can also promote a connection with nature, which can lead to a sense of awe and wonder. The natural world is full of beauty and complexity, and experiencing it can promote a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the world around us.
Finally, hiking provides opportunities to focus on the sensations of the body and surroundings. Walking on uneven terrain and being aware of your footing requires focus and attention, which can promote mindfulness.
Paying attention to the sensations of the body, such as the feeling of the sun on your skin or the breeze in your hair, can also promote mindfulness and relaxation.
How do you get started hiking?
Getting started with hiking is relatively simple. Here are some steps to follow:
- Research trails in your area that are appropriate for your fitness level and experience. Consider factors such as distance, terrain, and elevation. Choose a shorter, easier trail for your first hike to build up your endurance and experience.
- Wear comfortable, sturdy footwear, and dress in layers appropriate for the weather.
- Bring plenty of water, snacks, and any necessary equipment such as a map or compass.
- Hiking with a group or a friend can be more enjoyable and can also provide an added level of safety.
- Before setting out on your hike, let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Check the weather forecast and be prepared for unexpected changes in weather or terrain.
- Hiking is not a race, take breaks when you need to and enjoy the scenery.
- Respect nature and wildlife by minimizing your impact on the environment. Leave no trash behind and stay on the trail.
Hiking vs Walking vs Running vs Rucking
Which is Better for Weight Loss?
When it comes to weight loss, the effectiveness of hiking, walking, running and rucking can vary depending on factors such as intensity, duration, and individual preferences. Here’s a concise breakdown:
Hiking is an excellent option for weight loss as it combines cardiovascular exercise with varying terrains, engaging different muscles. It can burn a significant amount of calories while providing a low-impact workout suitable for various fitness levels.
Walking is a great low-impact exercise that can contribute to weight loss when done consistently and at a brisk pace. While it may not burn calories as rapidly as running, it is sustainable and accessible for most individuals, making it easier to maintain as a long-term habit.
Running is a high-impact, intense form of exercise that can burn calories quickly and promote weight loss. It requires more effort and can have a greater impact on joints. Running may be more challenging to sustain for longer durations or for individuals with certain physical limitations.
In summary, all three activities can aid in weight loss, but the choice depends on personal preference, fitness level, and individual circumstances.
Rucking is walking, or hiking, with added weight for the sole purpose of training and improving fitness. It is a low impact exercise that burns more calories than walking or hiking alone.
Fun Facts About Hiking
- The word “hike” originated from the Old English word “hitch” meaning “to move or pull up.”
- The Pacific Crest Trail, stretching about 2,650 miles (4,265 kilometers), runs from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada along the western United States.
- Hiking has been proven to reduce stress, boost mood, and improve mental well-being.
- The Great Wall of China is an ancient hiking route with sections that can be explored by hikers today.
- Hiking can burn around 400-700 calories per hour, depending on the terrain and intensity.
- It is believed that the first organized hiking club was the Sierra Club, founded in the United States in 1892.
- The longest hiking trail in the world is the Trans Canada Trail, which stretches over 14,913 miles (24,000 kilometers) across Canada.
- Hiking can lead to increased creativity and problem-solving skills.
- The outdoor activity of geocaching, where hikers use GPS devices to find hidden containers, has gained popularity among hiking enthusiasts.
How often should you hike?
To obtain the physical and mental benefits of hiking, you should establish a regular hiking routine.
Aim for a frequency that fits your schedule and fitness level. Engaging in moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as walking or hiking, for at least 150 minutes per week is a general guideline. For me that translates to about one hike a week, but it may be different for you.
You should consult with your personal physician or trainer to know what’s best for you.
Additionally, gradually progressing the duration and intensity of your hikes is important, especially if you are new to hiking or have a lower fitness level.
Consistency is key, so if you want to obtain the benefits of hiking you need to make hiking a regular part of your routine, whether it’s once or multiple times per week.
By doing so, you can enjoy the physical benefits of improved cardiovascular fitness, endurance, and strengthened muscles. Furthermore, hiking also offers mental benefits, such as stress reduction and improved mood, so incorporating it into your routine can contribute to overall well-being.
Remember to listen to your body, adjust the frequency as needed, and consult with a healthcare professional or fitness expert for personalized advice based on your specific circumstances.
Is hiking for anyone?
Hiking can be enjoyed by almost anyone, but the level of difficulty and terrain should be chosen based on individual fitness levels, health conditions, and experience.
People of all ages and fitness levels can participate in hiking, but those with certain health conditions or physical limitations should consult their healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program.
Is hiking good for kids?
Yes, hiking is an excellent outdoor activity for kids. It provides a great opportunity to explore and connect with nature, learn new skills, and stay active.
Hiking with kids can be a great way to encourage a love of the outdoors, promote physical activity, and create lasting memories as a family.
Is hiking good for seniors?
Yes, it certainly can be. Hiking provides opportunities for seniors to stay active, connect with nature, and socialize with others. However, it’s important to choose trails that are appropriate for their level of fitness and experience.
FAQs about Hiking
Yes, hiking is good for weight loss. Hiking can be an effective way to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight when combined with a balanced diet and other forms of exercise.
Yes, hiking can be an effective way to improve physical fitness and get in shape. Hiking provides a cardiovascular workout that can increase endurance, burn calories, and improve cardiovascular health.
Hiking can provide both cardio and strength training benefits, depending on the terrain and intensity of the hike.
Yes, hiking can build muscle if you do a lot of hiking. While hiking it’s not the most effective way to build muscle, it can still contribute to overall fitness, help tone certain muscles, and provide an enjoyable form of exercise. If your goal is to build muscle, incorporating strength training exercises, such as weightlifting or bodyweight exercises, into your routine would be more effective.
Yes, hiking is a good workout as it engages multiple muscle groups, improves cardiovascular endurance, burns calories, and provides the benefits of being outdoors.
Hiking can be strenuous exercise depending on the terrain, elevation, and intensity. It challenges your cardiovascular system, engages various muscles, and can be physically demanding. However, the level of intensity can vary, and it may not provide the same level of challenge as intense gym workouts.
Yes, mountain hiking is an excellent form of exercise. It offers a combination of cardiovascular endurance, muscle engagement, and challenging terrain that can provide a more intense workout compared to regular hiking, leading to improved fitness, strength, and endurance.
Hiking is a better workout than running in that it is gentler on your joints than running can be.
Final Thoughts: Hiking is Awesome
Many people find hiking to be a fun and enjoyable activity. I do! It can provide a sense of adventure and exploration, as you discover new trails and natural environments. It can also be a social activity, as you can go hiking with friends, family, or join a hiking group.
Hiking can also be a great way to disconnect from technology and immerse yourself in nature, which can be a refreshing break from the stresses of everyday life.
It can also provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as you challenge yourself physically and mentally to reach new destinations and accomplish new goals. All these benefits, and it’s good exercise too!