Take it Outside and Experience the Health Benefits of Hiking

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.


Mental health

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 hiking

Like 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.


Trip plan

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

Nathan Unisex Neutron Fire
  1. Light
Flashlight or a headlamp with extra batteries (and light bulb if not LED). Green cyalume stick or small turtle lights as emergency backup.
  1. Signaling Device
Whistle (we recommend the Fox 40 whistle with a lanyard), bear bangers or pencil flare.
  1. Fire Starter
Matches (waterproof or in plastic bag) or lighter. We also recommend a commercial firestarter and/or a candle. Commercial fire starters can be purchased at outdoor stores like Mountain Equipment Coop.
  1. Warm clothes
Hat or toque, gloves or mittens, puffy jacket, Gore-tex jacket, polypro underwear, good quality hiking socks and Gore-tex over pants.
  1. Pocketknife
Although a multi tool is preferred, a good pocket knife with a quality blade will suffice. It may also be worth carrying a small pruning saw for cutting branches when building a shelter or fire.
  1. Shelter
Large orange plastic bag and thermal tarp.
  1. Water and food
 Having the water you need and extra is essential. Packing hydration tablets or drink crystals can also be helpful. Long sustaining foods like food bars are the perfect food to pack.
  1. First-aid kit
Should include pocket mask; Sam Splint, bulk dressings, protective gloves, bandage, scissors and blister dressings
  1. Navigation
Good quality compass with built in declination adjustment and both topographical and interpretive maps. we also recommend a GPS unit but only as an adjunct to compass and map. Most team members carry a Garmin 60 series GPS unit that has terrific reception in the trees.
  1. Communications

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.


Health benefits

Hiking can have short and long-term health benefits. In the short-term you are working your cardio and all your muscle groups. The mental relief can be instantaneous. Long-term you will see muscles tone and grow. You may lose weight - hiking burns the same amount of calories as a moderately-paced run. Don’t fill up on extra foods to “reward” yourself for a day out in the hills. Maintain your calories and, like all healthy diets, choose whole, natural foods. And don’t forget the water!

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