Walking is a perfect activity to incorporate movement and exercise into your daily routine. Depending on where you go for walks, there may be benefits in addition to physical fitness. Compared to walking on the pavement in a city or crowded urban area, being in nature while you walk has additional benefits for your mental health and wellness.
The benefits of being outdoors for mental health are countless. In nature, your body and mind can slow down, allowing you to be mindful and present.
Imagine a babbling brook or crashing waves, birds chirping, rain landing softly on leaves, trees gently swaying with the breeze. Picture yourself breathing in the fresh ocean air and feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin. Smell the earthy scent of the trail beneath your feet or the sweetness of blooming flowers or the tide gently moving out. Plus, there’s the opportunity to spot and observe wildlife in its natural habitat.
The sights, the smells, and the sounds of nature are calming. Plus, exposure to the sun (in short bursts) helps your body naturally produce vitamin D, which is a key component in preventing chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and depression. Read more about how vitamin D works.
This month’s guest writer shares her thoughts on why hiking and mental health go hand-in-hand and some hiking tips for beginners.
Physical + mental health benefits of hiking
More and more people are getting into hiking because of physical and mental health benefits. Numerous studies have shown that hiking helps lower the risk of heart disease, improves balance, lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels, helps control weight, and relieves symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Hiking is classified as a low-impact cardiovascular workout, which means it is suitable for people of all ages, provided they are not suffering from heart disease. It is also a weight-bearing exercise, meaning it builds strength in many important muscle groups and improves bone density.
Plus, there are significant mental health benefits to hiking, especially if the hike is in a natural environment away from urban areas and crowds. Mountain hikes are the most beneficial, but any location where there are forests, lakes or beaches that are not crowded with tourists can improve mental health.
Even the travel involved in getting there can be beneficial, too. There have been studies that conclude travel helps to improve mental health because it promotes both the health and resilience of the brain. And other studies have shown that travel improves emotional health because of the social interactions and bonding opportunities that travel provides.
If you’ve not done much hiking before, it’s best to start with day hikes before venturing into something more adventurous, perhaps involving overnight stays in cabins or at campsites. Here are a few tips to ensure that your day hikes are enjoyable experiences.
Hiking Tips For Beginners
If you’re new to venturing up a mountain or into the woods for a hike to benefit your mental health, here are some things to think about before you go.