The health benefits of hiking are many and varied. In addition to the great views, the fresh air, and the thrill of experience the sounds and smells of nature, hiking outdoors is a powerful cardio workout with many health benefits.

But before you jump into a hiking routine you’ll want to make sure you have a few essentials. This will ultimately enhance the hiking experience and maximize the health benefits you’ll gain from the experience. Among the basics you’ll want to consider are an appropriate backpack, sunglasses, a first aid kit, a hydration system, and a headlamp.

Among the health benefits of outdoor hiking are:

  • Hiking has cardiovascular benefits by lowering the  risk of heart disease
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar level
  • Boost bone density
  • Decrease the risk of bad cholesterol (LDL)
  • Increase pulmonary function 
  • Build strength in glutes, quadriceps, hip & lower leg muscles, and hamstrings
  • Strengthen the body’s core muscles
  • Reduce stress
  • Increase bone density
  • Improve balance
  • Help control weight
  • Combat symptoms of stress and anxiety/boost mood
  • Increase exposure to Vitamin D 
  • Reduce the risk of chronic disease
  • Improve the quality of sleep
  • Reduce the risk of chronic disease
  • Increase creativity happiness level

Fitness-boosting Strategies to Create Your Own Hiking Routine:

  • Start slowly. Don’t overdo it at the beginning. A short, local hike is always the best way for beginners to start an outdoor hiking routine. Gradually over time, you can work in hills, uneven terrain and greater distances.
  • Hiking poles. Using hiking poles will give yourself a stronger cardio workout. The simple act of digging into the ground and propelling yourself forward pushes your upper body muscles and forces them to work harder. This is an easy way to greatly improve the cardio benefits of your outdoor hiking workout.
  • Head for a hill to burn extra calories. Hiking up a small hill or inclines will dramatically intensify your heart rate and burn extra calories. Even a 5% to 10% incline can dramatically increase your calorie burn by up to equals 40%.
  • Head for uneven terrain. Outdoor hiking on uneven terrain can give your muscles an extra workout. In addition, hiking uneven terrain can improve your balance and stability.
  • Weigh yourself down. Add some extra weight to your backpack/day pack. (Water is always a good option.) Carrying a moderate 10-15 pound pack can boost your calorie burn by 10% to 15%. In addition, the extra weight will work to strengthen your lower back muscles.
  • Create a routine and keep to it. There will be days that you can’t make it to your favorite trail. On those days, do a power-walk on hilly terrain in the neighborhood while carrying some extra weight in a backpack. This will keep your hiking skills and fitness routine on track.

Safe Hiking Tips

  • Find an appropriate hiking trail. To find a good, safe, hiking venue that meets your skill level, check local, state, and national parks. They are always a good place to start your search.
  • Check before you hit the trails. Check the weather, and dress and pack accordingly. If storms or other severe weather are a possibility, rethink your plan.
  • Bring a partner. It’s best not to begin your hiking routine alone. This is especially true if you’re going to be hiking unfamiliar or remote trails. A partner can help you navigate and assist if you get hurt. As your skill level and confidence improves, you’ll feel more comfortable going solo, let someone know where you’ll be and when you plan to return.
  • Bring a map and familiarize yourself with it. Follow marked paths and trails. Don’t rely on your phone GPS. It may not work in the wilderness.
  • Wear hiking boots. Choose well-fitting footwear with good ankle support. Break them in with shorter walks so you don’t get blisters when you’re miles from a trailhead.
  • Stay hydrated. Take plenty of water along on your hike, especially in warm, sunny weather.

Whether it’s heading to the mountains or walking the trails in your neighborhood, just get out there.  Hiking has a positive effect on all aspects of our lives, from health to relationships to a good night’s sleep. Whatever you do and wherever you go, just get outside and hike more. It’ll save your life.

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