This is the about the time we are all itching to get outside. Hiking is something you can do in all weather - rain, sun, snow. You can head to the mountains to take on this bone-growing, weight-shedding activity in all four seasons by merely adapting your gear. Hiking is an activity with almost countless benefits and easily accessible to anyone with solid footwear and a bit of safety equipment. Whether you are heading to locals hills, coastal wanders or mountaintop vistas - hike your way to better health.
Improve bone density
Many popular exercises and sports are not doing our bone health any favours. Swimming, cycling and yoga aren’t weight bearing enough for research to confirm they help bone density. The best scenario to fight osteoporosis is to do exercise that is upright and working against gravity. The body needs to sustain some sort of impact to stimulate a reaction from our bones. Hiking checks all the boxes - the short, intense bursts to ascend terrain are an added bonus for bone health.
Build strength and balance
Hiking is one of those great sports that gets your heart pumping, strengthening major muscles groups - which means more calories burned. Your glutes, quads, hamstrings and all of the other muscles from your core and hips down to your calves and feet get a workout. Hiking improves balance and core strength as you work to negotiate uneven ground.
Heading outside into nature just makes people feel better. The change in scenery has tangible benefits. A 2015 Stanford University study found that exercising outdoors calmed activity in the part of the brain often linked to mental illness. The repetitive movements and quiet environment can be an important time to work out problems and stressors either passively or actively. Time in nature will reduce general mental fatigue - this can lead to increased creativity and and problem-solving skills. Research shows that spending time outdoors increases attention span and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent.
Find the motivation to start hikingLike so many activities outside, the tough part is getting off the couch. The moment you step outside you feel better. Three things to help you get out there:
- If hiking is for you, keep your backpack full and ready to go - then you just need to get dressed and go.
- Grab a friend and head out together.
- Go in search of views - search out vistas, lakes or mountain tops. But don’t get distracted, focus on your feet while you are moving.
What you need
Before heading out in the mountains there are some important steps to take.
Always tell someone where you will be, what your route is expected to be and when you will be back. Have a plan in place to notify help if you do not arrive home when expected.
What to wear
Do not wear running shoes, there is not enough lateral support for the uneven surfaces of hiking. Choose something with ankle support. Wear wool or athletic fabrics - not cotton which can leave you chilled. We have turned to North Shore Rescue for its tips (links are ours). This North Vancouver nonprofit and volunteer organization is one of the world's leading and busiest search and rescue groups. They would love it if they were out of business - so follow their guidelines and they hope to never see you.
Bring these 10 hiking essentials
- Signaling Device
- Fire Starter
- Warm clothes
- Water and food
- First-aid kit
A cell phone is essential but it is a backup. Often once you hike over the first ridge you will lose service. An emergency locator like a SPOT device is helpful.