The Incredible Benefits of Hiking (and Hiking Tips!)
We already know that exercising every day is an important part of your daily routine. However, when the scenery at your home gym starts to get old, hiking provides a wonderful alternative. Hiking is a low impact, low cost option to get in touch with nature, work up a healthy sweat and may be catch up with an old friend (or your thoughts!). As easy as putting one foot in front of the other, hiking is a great way to explore our surroundings, enjoy breathtaking panoramic views and take a breather from the stress of our daily lives. Our wellness experts at Uma have crafted a guide for you to get the most out of your hike - so schedule that weekend hike now if you haven't already!
- Let's understand the health benefits first (there are many!)
Not only is hiking a good cardio workout, but it also builds strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip muscles and calf muscles. Even hiking up a small hill can intensify your heart rate and burn calories, with a 5-10% incline burning 30-40% more calories. In addition, hiking can improve your core strength, balance and help control your weight. Uneven terrain, in particular, is great for improving your stability. This intensive workout can subsequently improve your blood pressure and blood sugar. Early morning hikes, in particular, can lower your blood pressure and ensure better nighttime sleep patterns.
Aside from health benefits, hiking also has incredible benefits on your state of mind and overall mood. Research shows that getting in touch with nature has a tremendous impact on levels of happiness and combating symptoms like stress and anxiety. Records on recovery after cholecystectomy of patients in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital between 1972 and 1981 were examined to determine whether assignment to a room with a window view of a natural setting might have restorative influences. Twenty-three surgical patients assigned to rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses’ notes, and took fewer potent analgesics than 23 matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick building wall. If that doesn't evangelize the benefits of nature on one's health and wellbeing, we don't know what does! (Full study here)
Finally, the aerobic exercise of a hike can also invigorate your body by increasing your levels of endorphins and norepinephrine. Overall, hiking is a definite, natural mood booster and a healthy way to get in shape!
- Now let's get to the basics: Sustenance!
Maintaining good water and electrolyte balance is critical to a healthy hike. Without water, your body will have a more difficult time eliminating waste, manufacturing biomolecules for energy production and repairing the micro-tears in your muscles. Electrolytes, molecules that conduct electrical impulses, like sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride, help with muscle contractions, nerve functions, and energy levels. Try coconut water for a natural source of electrolytes. You can also make your own electrolyte water by mixing water with a pinch of sugar, salt and lemon juice!
Hiking eats up a lot of energy, giving you the perfect reason to pack along a few snacks for the road! Keep energy levels high with protein rich foods to build and repair body tissues. Amino acids in the protein can fuel muscle building and readily allow you to access alternate fuel sources such as body fat. Greek yogurt, seeds, nuts, cheese, or granola bars are great hiking essentials for protein rich snacks. Complex carbohydrates are crucial for efficient energy usage as they take longer to digest and provide longer, sustained energy. Simple carbohydrates give you a quick surge of energy and have a higher caloric density. Have a little of both by trying whole wheat toast with dried fruit to keep you going and give you an extra energy boost. Bananas are also a great source of potassium, which drops after perspiration and helps your body avoid muscle cramps and fatigue.
- Skin safety
Always apply sunscreen and bug repellant frequently throughout the hike, even on cloudy days. Avoid irritation, rashes, and toxic impacts on wildlife and water sources with this all-natural bug repellant. Try a few drops of lavender oil, peppermint oil or geranium oil in an organic alcohol. You can also mix in one (or all!) of witch hazel, baby oil and vanilla extract. Pour into a spritz bottle and shake well before spraying! Wear a hat and protective cloth but if you do get sunburned, try these natural remedies to soothe the burn and erase sun damage with these fuss-free tips!
- Up the ante with mountain-top yoga!
There is no better place for a tranquil yoga exercise than a patch of grass overlooking the rolling clouds. Aside from being a great warm up for the hike down, yoga allows you to have greater lung capacity and to stretch out your muscles while savoring a gorgeous view on top of the world. Here are 3 great yoga poses you can try to help you move effortlessly across uneven terrain:
- Pigeon: Open up your glutes and lose the tightness in your hips with the pigeon pose. Not only will this relieve pressure on your lower back, but it will also alleviate strain on your knees.
- Standing forward bend: Keep your hamstrings strong with the standing forward bend. This pose can help with your posture, along with improving back and leg strength.
- Extended triangle pose: This pose stretches and strengthens your thighs, knees, hips and chest to help stretch out your lungs and relieve tightness and stress. It also stretches out the spine to relieve backache.
Some yoga squats before and after your hike wouldn’t hurt to open up your hips, tone your glutes and quads, and avoid post-hike soreness!