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Why Hiking In Nature Is Good For The Body And Mind
I don’t know about you but I’ve packed on a few pounds over the years. It only gets worse with age as this old geezer can attest! You know, when I was a kid only bodybuilders hung out at the gym. Now there is literally a gym on every street corner. What if I could divulge a secret way to bypass the expense and monotony of a gym? Being a senior I get a free gym membership as part of my health plan. However, I seldom, if ever, use it. Why? Because I hike in nature’s gym!
I’ve learned the secret of hiking for exercise and weight loss. I am twenty pounds lighter than I was a year ago hiking only one or two days a week. I look and feel much better despite my geezer age.
So what is there about hiking in nature that makes it one of the best forms of exercise and weight loss?
Hiking In Nature Burns the Calories
All of the health and fitness magazines tout the benefits of walking for exercise and using the gym to get rid of excess weight gain.
They even give detailed workout routines for you to follow. Hiking typically burns half again as many calories per hour as walking at a 3 mile per hour pace on level ground or on a treadmill at the gym.
Hiking typically burns half again as many calories per hour than walking at a 3 mile per hour pace on level ground or on a treadmill at the gym.
Walking on hard surfaces gives way to what is referred to as the pendulum effect. Daniel Ferris, a professor of engineering and biomechanics at the University of Florida says that your walking stride is like the swing of a pendulum.
“Thanks to gravitational and kinetic energy, if I start that pendulum swinging, it’s going to keep moving back and forth for a long time without any additional energy input.”
When walking on a flat surface your arms and legs swing back and forth in a rhythmical fashion with little effort.
I don’t know about you, but when I go to the gym it is all I can do to manage a 45-minute workout.
Hiking in nature is a completely different animal. I can go on a 5 to 8-mile hike in the foothills or mountain for a couple of hours and think nothing of it.
What might amount to 400 calories burned at the gym turns into 1,200 to 1,500 calories on the trail during a 4 hour hike.
On top of that, I don’t dread going!
Tailor nature hiking workouts to each person’s liking. From a quiet walk in the woods to a full-blown sweaty, out-of-breath, heart-pounding experience.
I like to pick stretches on the trail for intermittent high-intensity workouts. After hiking as fast and as long as I can stand it, I slow down to a snail’s pace, catch my breath, and I’m ready for the next heart-pounding experience.
Not only does this give a great cardiovascular workout but the metabolic fat-burning effect continues for hours after my hike.
While hiking burns the calories, you need to make sure you are getting enough high-calorie food for your hike.
Benefits of Hiking In Nature Is A Full Body Workout
Compare a gym workout to hiking on trails in the woods, on the beach, along rivers, or in the mountains. Hiking in nature involves walking on uneven ground, navigating over small rocks or even boulders, hiking both uphill and downhill, avoiding obstacles, and other unknown trail conditions.
Hiking, like swimming, gives you a full-body workout. When you go to the gym you have to use each piece of gym equipment for specific muscle groups. Hiking in nature, on the other hand, engages your entire body, especially if you hike with a weighted daypack or backpack.
Hiking with a pack works every major muscle group in your body, building muscle tone while improving your cardiovascular fitness.
You use muscles in your hips, knees, and ankles that you normally don’t use. Navigating uneven terrain engages the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and thighs. Not only do you strengthen these muscles but you also improve your balance.
This becomes important as you age and don’t have the agility and balance of youth. Hiking with a pack works out every major muscle group in your body, building muscle tone while improving your cardiovascular fitness.
I don’t think my body will ever look like it did in my twenty’s but at least this old geezer no longer has a beer belly. All one needs to do is look at before and after pictures of thru-hikers to see the physical change in body structure.
Lastly, hiking with trekking poles strengthens your arms and upper torso. Use hiking poles to help propel you forward when hiking uphill and slow your descent when going downhill. This not only increases your arm strength but conditions upper body muscle groups as well.
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Hiking In Nature Provides Multiple Health Benefits
When you enter geezer territory you are required by Medicare to have an annual wellness exam. I’ve never quite figured out why I have to make an appointment to see the doctor when I don’t have anything wrong with me, but Medicare doesn’t really care what I think, so I schedule an annual checkup.
Becoming more fit has multiple health benefits. Not only do we old guys want to remain healthy and active, but the young do too. The most obvious benefits are reflected in your appearance, but health benefits reach much deeper than that.
So The Geez had his annual exam last month and guess what? No diabetes, no high cholesterol, blood pressure of 110 over 60, resting heart rate below the norm, no harping to lose weight, and no follow-up doctor’s visit.
What’s even better is when the doctor asks me what medications I am taking I tell him NONE! I always get the deer in the headlights stare.
Maybe I just have good genes, but I like to think it has a lot to do with hiking in nature.
Vitamin D Benefits of Hiking In Nature
Have you ever wondered why people tend to get sick more often in the winter? And no, just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you will catch a cold! That is an old wives tale that my mom used to tell us kids so we would wear a coat when we went outside to play.
Your immune system is extremely complex and depends on many things. One requirement is maintaining proper levels of Vitamin D.
People don’t usually spend as much time outdoors in the winter and vitamin D levels are often low. Called the sunshine vitamin, the body naturally produces Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to direct sunlight.
What better way to optimize your vitamin D levels than hiking outdoors in nature instead of exercising in a gym. Hiking naturally increases your body temperature so that even when it is cold outside you are often able to wear a short-sleeve shirt and get an hour or two of direct sunlight.
Even if your arms are fully covered you receive the benefit of sunlight falling on your face. Optimal amounts of Vitamin D reduce your risk of not only colds and flu but also osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Even though I hike several times a week, my own lack of Vitamin D caused my knee problems while hiking Grand Canyon. My doctor had me take Vitamin D to help with the bone bruising from my mishap in the Grand Canyon.
The hiking group I belong to has over 1,300 members. I routinely hear stories from hikers who were formerly taking medication for diabetes and/or high blood pressure who have been able to get off their meds.
Many have cut back or totally eliminated the need for drugs to manage their condition. What a great reason to start hiking in nature.
Hiking In Nature Improves Mental Well Being
Nature hiking draws out a feeling of well-being. It has the ability to de-stress normal everyday life. One of the benefits of hiking in nature is that it becomes a natural “chill pill”.
The sounds of nature can be heard in ways never imaginable in the city. The song of a bird, the crunching of forest humus underneath your feet, the sound of a babbling brook, all can be distinctly heard, brighten your mood, and remove anxiety.
Can you remember the indescribable feeling you get when you see a breathtaking sunset? Or how about a majestic waterfall? Research shows that such experiences benefit your state of mind.
People who spend 50 minutes walking through nature report less anxiety and more happiness compared with those who walk near traffic, according to a study in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.
We know that just looking at photos of nature reduces stress,” says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Even five minutes in nature can boost your mood and self-esteem. And because exercise produces endorphins (known as the happiness hormone), it takes the feel-good benefits to a new level. “Hiking creates a wonderful combination of less stress and more happiness.”
These benefits extend well beyond the actual hike. Although The Geez has never had any sleep problems, many hikers report sleep disorders to lessen or even disappear entirely with regular hiking treks.
One additional benefit of hiking is self-esteem. Along with body composition changes achieved through hiking your overall satisfaction of self improves. After all, there is an entire industry is built upon defying age and looking younger.
What better way than self-improvement than through hiking. Are you ready to start?
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