Depending on where you live, there may still be time to get in some hiking, and you don’t have to go hard-core to net the many benefits of it. Think of hiking as simply taking a longer walk in nature; you can hike at any pace, at any elevation, and for any number of miles, hours, or even days.
Major bonus: it doesn’t take a lot to get started. Unlike other outdoor sports that are gear heavy and often require travel and lessons, such as rock climbing and waterskiing, the barrier to entry-level hiking is low. You really need only two key items: proper footwear and a day bag. Find a trail near you at Hiking Project (hikingproject.com), which features GPS and elevation data and user-generated tips for almost 14,000 beginner to advanced trails.
#1 reason to take a hike
Your Legs Will Never Look Better
Most hikes involve climbing up a big hill or mountain, then coming back down, a combo that’s a great work-out for your legs. Trekking up a mountain is a lot like climbing the stairclimber or doing lunges over and over, which strengthens your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. But traveling downhill is what really leaves your legs sore, then sculpted. To go downhill, your glutes and quads need to do a lot of slow, controlled work to stabilize your knees and hips so you don’t fall.
#2 reason to take a hike
Every Step Firms Your Core
Navigating tough terrain also requires your abs, obliques, and lower back to work to keep your body stabilized and upright—even more so if you’re carrying a backpack. A heavier bag makes you more unstable, so your core muscles need to work harder. You’ll burn calories regardless (400 to 800 an hour, depending on the trail), but your hiking bag can help you hit the high end of that range.
#3 reason to take a hike
It’s Killer Cross-Training
Whether you’re prepping for a race or you just want to round out your Spinning routine, scheduling some hikes can improve your fitness level in ways that up your running and cycling game.
Cyclists tend to have strong quads but underdeveloped hamstrings, and runners tend to have weak hamstrings and glutes. Hiking helps strengthen these muscles to eliminate those types of imbalances.
Plus, if you hike regularly at high altitudes (4,000 feet and up), you’ll get used to exercising in a low-oxygen environment, so your body will adapt to using less oxygen, which could lead to improved performance the next time you do a race.
#4 reason to take a hike
It Decreases Risk of Common Injuries
A lot of standard exercise—running, walking, lunging, squatting—moves you forward and backward or up and down. Hiking, on the other hand, forces you to move every which way, as you climb over fallen trees and sidestep slippery rocks. By doing things that require you to move in multiple directions, you strengthen the stabilizing muscles that fire to prevent common injuries.
Think about it: Most everyday injuries occur when people quickly shift from one plane of motion to another, such as when they reach over to pick up a heavy object and pull a back muscle. If you're not used to moving this way, other muscles will try to compensate for weak stabilizers, resulting in poor form and potentially a pull, a pop, a tear, or a break.
#5 reason to take a hike
It’s a Happy Pill
Know that mmm...ah! feeling you get when you see a beautiful waterfall or gaze out from atop a mountain? Research shows such experiences benefit your state of mind. Even five minutes in nature can boost your mood and self-esteem, and because exercise produces endorphins (known as the happiness hormone), actually moving through nature takes the feel-good benefits to a new level. Hiking creates a wonderful combination of less stress and more happiness.
#6 reason to take a hike
It Sure Beats Bonding at the Bar
Working toward a unified goal—like making your way through the woods with others—strengthens relationships and builds bonds. Hiking usually involves solving little problems together ['Uh, did we make a wrong turn?'], which makes you feel more accomplished as a group. I always remember the people I hiked with more than anything else. No hiking buddy? No problem.
Article courtesy of Shape, September 2016