As I state in my book Eating Yourself Sick, “hiking is walking on an uneven surface”. Like walking, hiking offers a host of health benefits you may not realize, including the following:
- Lower stress levels
- Improved mood, and mental welfare
- A reduced risk for heart disease
- Lowers your blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Improved body weight control
- Lower body fat
- Improved mineral bone density
- Increases in flexibility, strength, and coordination
- A better quality of life
- Enhanced relationships with friends and family
I have been hiking since I was a young boy, starting off on the coastal trails around Long Island where I grew up, later venturing off to the Catskill and Adirondack mountain ranges, both of which are in upstate New York, with friends and family. I was able to hike all months of the year, especially enjoying the fall season, where the leaves were changing with a never-ending cast of colors on the trees.
With my interest in photography, nature, geography, and the preservation of wilderness areas, hiking is a natural fit for me, allowing me to tap into all of these likes with one activity. There is something very special about being alone in the woods, away from the noise of the city, with a few like-minded friends, taking in the natural beauty planet earth has to offer. While you may think I’m getting overly dramatic in the description, it is a sight to see, and a feeling to witness. I wish everyone could experience the feelings I have experienced.
Back to the health and wellness side…as noted above, hiking is an excellent form of exercise, and it’s good for you. That cannot be argued. With minimal investment, you can be out hitting the trails (I’ll comment on a few pieces of hiking gear to consider at the end). Most importantly, the mental health benefits are immeasurable, and hiking does build relationships, and certainly makes them stronger. Research by Stanford University investigated the mental health effects of hiking and found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.
Like all forms of exercise, we all like to make excuses why you CAN’T do it. How about adopting an attitude of doing it. My personal approach is simple. Every vacation we take, regardless of the urban or rural nature of the location, we make a point of finding places to hike. This may be a hiking trail in and around American cities like Chicago, San Diego, or Boston. If traveling abroad, hikes in Italy, Germany, Spain, or Ireland are researched and found. Even in the most developed urban setting, there are hiking trails. This makes planning all the more exciting. Who in the group may be able to find a gem of a hike in the middle of Los Angeles?
When our children were young, we introduced them to hiking (and camping) at a very young age. I have keen memories of packing up portable cribs and setting them up in our tent while with other like-minded friends and neighbors did the same for their children. Like any activity and experience, they younger you share these experiences with children, the more likely they too will enjoy the value of being in the outdoors.
There is no doubt hiking requires some degree of fitness. If you cannot walk 10 steps, this is not for you. The reason I ask everyone to take his or her health and wellness serious is so that you are in the kind of shape needed to walk on a trail for 30 minutes (for starters!). Paying attention to your weight, blood pressure, diet, rest and sleeping habits, diabetes, and cholesterol issues will pay huge dividends when you start to consider hiking. If you neglect all of these issues, not only won’t you be able to hike, you most likely won’t be able to exercise, ride a bike, swim, or do weight training. You will be preoccupied with all sorts of medical and surgical concerns, and simply fighting for your life. On the other hand, if you pay keen attention to your health, engage yourself in understanding that “you are what you eat”, that being overweight does matter, and that your own commitment can lead to a healthier and longer life, you will be perfectly positioned to lace up your boots, and take to the miles of trail awaiting you, your family, and friends.
Finally, here are links to gear, retailers, and resources to get started with your hiking pleasures. Enjoy, and let me know how it goes.
REI Co-Op: longstanding favorite of mine for gear and knowledgeable advice.
Sierra Club: Learn about hikes world-wide.
Skilled Adventures: Great site for all things hiking.
Saloman Shoes: Very good shoes for hiking.
Camelbak Hydration Systems: We all need water on the trail.
Adventure Junkie: Another full site for all things outdoors.
Best Day Hikes America: Many sites like this.
Best City Hikes: Many similar review sites to consider.
Bryce Canyon: My personal favorite National Park
National Park System: A great resource to become familiar with. Endless opportunities to explore.