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Number #1 Cardio Exercise in 2024: HIKING


Have you noticed a difference between a cardio session done indoors and the one done on fresh air? Do you tend to feel less stressed, more focused, and more relaxed outdoors? If so, that is not a coincidence. 

Exercising outdoors is actually proven to be more beneficial, and one form of cardio that is becoming more popular this year is hiking.

Hiking offers a variety of benefits, both physical and mental. Some benefits may be immediate (such as a reduction in blood pressure and stress, better focus and immunity), whereas other improvements may develop over time, such as weight loss and a decrease in depression.

Continue reading, and we’ll cover this topic in depth today!

 

Hiking: Physical Benefits

Hiking is closely related to cardiovascular health, so it can provide amazing heart health benefits while also improving blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

This form of physical activity also strengthens the leg muscles, builds stability in the core and enhances balance skills. The more demanding the terrain is, along with an increase in climbing intensity, the more balance and core strength is recruited. As you climb, the larger muscles in your legs are activated (such as the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves), and on the descent, your glutes and quadriceps are working hard to prevent you from falling forward on the decline. Uneven terrain is another blessing in disguise, since many of the smaller stabilizer muscles are being worked, which prevents any potential disbalances.

The intensity of a hike can be altered to fit one’s capabilities, ranging from a simple hiking path to a challenging climb up a mountain, making it perfect for all age groups.




Hiking: Mental Health Benefits

Available research suggests that hiking mountain areas with altitude differences could increase dopamine (happiness), calmness, and relaxation.  For example, one study showed a reduction in stress-related responses such as lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the saliva of the outdoor hikers (1).

The Stanford University research team also showcased that spending time in nature reduces rumination, or in simpler terms, negative thinking patterns. During this study it was also concluded that mental well-being of participants that lived in urban areas was drastically bettered. In fact, all study participants experienced a decrease in depression related hormones and patterns, suggesting that hiking has benefits that stretch beyond physical (2) (3). 

Furthermore, being in nature decreases anxiety and includes some improvements in cognition and focus. Being in nature could also serves as an opportunity to be more mindful and present to the moment you’re experiencing (4).

 

Getting Started with Hiking

It’s clear, being in nature has the power to make us feel better, both physically and mentally. So, how can you get started? First, start with shorter hikes on more familiar terrain that is near you – this will make things easier if you’re a beginner. Consider getting stiffer-sole shoes, since they can help support your feet by providing a more stable grip on uneven and potentially slippery trails (hiking-specific footwear is ideal). A good pair of shoes can also prevent ankle injuries or falls as you start hiking (since you may have less leg strength and overall stability).

Also, come prepared with a drink and some snacks (even if you don’t think you will be outside for very long) and be sure to wear clothes appropriate for the weather. Dress in layers to help you stay warm in cooler climate, and be sure to wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days. Have an understanding of the route you will be taking by using a map or app (smartphone). Even better, bring a friend along to join you, this is going to make the experience more enjoyable and it’ll embrace the feelings of happiness. It’s also useful to let someone know where you will be hiking in case of an emergency situation. Give them the name and location of trail, and your approximate return.



Conclusion

To summarize, hiking stands as truly a compelling and fun cardio exercise. Its accessibility, versatility, and connection to nature make it an appealing choice for individuals seeking to improve their fitness while enjoying the outdoors. From challenging hikes to leisurely walks, this exercise offers a range of options to accommodate various levels of physical readiness.  Beyond its physical benefits, hiking fosters mental rejuvenation and a deeper appreciation for the natural world.

By incorporating hiking into your fitness regimen, you can embark on a journey to exploration and self-discovery, bettering both body and soul amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the wilderness.

 

References:

1.     Affective responses in mountain hiking—A randomized crossover trial focusing on differences between indoor and outdoor activity

2.     A Randomized Crossover Trial on Acute Stress-Related Physiological Responses to Mountain Hiking

3.     Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation

 

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