Hiking is Healthy!

In celebration of the hundredth anniversary of National Parks, it's a good time to consider some of the benefits we can get from hiking, a popular activity for park visitors.

Of course, not everyone has a national park close by, but hiking trails exist everywhere, even in close proximity to urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco, so with a little research on parks and bike trails near you, it's easy to enjoy the experience.

Hiking has been a constant in my life, at least ever since college when I first started taking road trips out of my native Houston, Texas. I saw the landscape of beautiful mountains before me in places like California, Utah, New Mexico and Tennessee, and I was hooked on exploring more.

Hiking is rewarding in many ways, and is accessible to anyone at different levels of fitness (depending on how strenuous it is). Following are some of the benefits of hiking – I encourage you to try it:

You can truly experience nature.

Most of us can snap a photo of a scenic backdrop for our Instagram feeds, but hiking allows you to experience nature. What I mean by this is hiking gives you some space to appreciate what's around you. It allows you to go at your own pace, taking in your surroundings a little at a time, watching them shift and change as you go to a higher or lower elevation. You get to appreciate at a deeper level the environment of the region, whether lakes or mountains or forests, as well as the wildlife that inhabits it.

You can explore and test yourself.

Hiking is unique in that every bend holds a new perspective, a fresh viewpoint. It’s also demanding at times, depending on the length and elevation gain of the hike, as well as the tricky passes through narrow ledges. When you press your endurance to carry you to the top, it’s a gratifying accomplishment. If you are anxious about a project at work, or making a big transition in your life, hiking gives you a process to work through your fears, step by step. Plus, you find something new and breathtaking around every bend.

You can get creative.

Some researchers from the University of London found that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent. “This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving,” said David Strayer, co-author of the study.

You can increase your stamina and fitness.

One hour of trekking can burn as much as 500 calories, and it puts less stress on your joints than running or walking on concrete or asphalt pavements. Depending on the elevation gain, the distance, and the weight you carry in your pack, hiking makes for a serious workout for your quads and glutes. It also helps build your muscles in addition to getting your heart rate up.

Hiking can improve your mood and overall emotional health.

When you combine physical activity with nature, studies have shown it helps you to release emotions and enter a more meditative state of mind. When you incorporate hiking into your therapeutic regime, you can see added benefit. When you are walking in nature, away from phones and the daily demands of life, it allows you to room to disconnect so you can get clarity. You’re better able to connect with yourself and your environment in a way that reduces stress and increases a sense of peace and well-being.

So maybe it’s time to get outside.