There’s nothing quite like standing at the top of a mountain. The air is thinner, your legs are screaming, and it’s a long way back down to the bottom. The ‘negatives,’ however, are undeniably trumped by the indescribable panorama around you, and the feeling of triumph and success at conquering this vast obstacle course, courtesy of Mother Nature. Hiking allows for a certain mental clarity, as well as a killer whole body workout. I had forgotten this feeling until earlier this week when I climbed to the top of Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado at 14,443 feet.
View from the bottom
Not every hike set out needs to be as crazy or intense as a 14er. You can get many of the same benefits from hiking shorter distances with less incline. Hiking is a great way to get outdoors; it doesn’t require a gym. No special equipment is needed. It can be solitary or social. Each and every trail is different; you can get a variety of workouts with never ending options. It just requires putting one foot in front of the other (based on my scraped up knee, this can be more challenging than you may think sometimes). The best part: anyone can do it.
The are a myriad of health benefits from hiking as well.
As hiking puts pressure on your bones, it encourages healthy bone structure and reduces the chances of osteoporosis. Being exposed to sunshine will also increase your levels of vitamin D. Hiking is a cardiovascular activity, depending on how hard you push yourself during a hike, and thus has benefits for your cardiovascular system, such as reducing the chances of heart disease, and increasing your overall fitness. Hiking is excellent for muscle tone, particularly cross country hiking, as your body and legs have to compensate for the rough terrain by working harder. (fitday.com)
There are also many mental benefits of hiking. Hiking outdoors can help you feel closer to nature and natural rhythms, which may increase your happiness and help you feel more fulfilled. A difficult hike, for example, up a hill or mountain, can also help you feel like you’ve achieved something more tangible than completing a fitness circuit at the gym. (fitday.com) Not to mention, any sort of exercise is a great stress reliever and can improve your mood (thank you endorphines).
Hiking can aid in weight loss, as well as muscular toning and endurance. Cardiovascular endurance is augmented as well, especially if you do moderate to difficult hikes. Circulation can be improved as a result, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular and circulatory diseases.
If you’re new to hiking, or want to improve, do NOT pick the most difficult trail out there. Work up to it. Your muscles and joints will thank you. Also, make sure you have the proper shoes and equipment, if needed. Oftentimes, tennis shoes or trail shoes will do the trick just right. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Always bring water with you, especially if you plan on being out for more than 30 minutes as dehydration can occur fast. Connect with others who are taking advantage of the great outdoors as well. Track your workouts on Mapmyhike.com, where you can also map your own hikes and share your routes with others.
If you decide to go hiking or walking by yourself, ALWAYS tell someone where you’re going.
It’s a beautiful summer, so take some time to get outside and enjoy it. Pick a trail. Set a goal. And bask in the physical and mental benefits that only an outdoor trail can provide.
At the top of Mt. Elbert
Do you enjoy hiking? What’s your favorite hike?
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