“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.”
– T.S. Eliot
If you aren’t a hiker yourself, you may have questions about your friends who derive satisfaction from taking the longest possible route over a mountain. While it may not mitigate all of their strangeness, you can take comfort in the fact that your hiker friends have some very legitimate reasons to spend their weekends wandering through mountain passes and woods. Here’s why.
Hiking is Healthy
For a long time, most people just assumed this was the case. We felt good while doing it, we stayed in shape in between, and we reveled in the sagely nods of people twice our age coming down the mountain. (I hope I’m still doing this at HIS age!) Until recently, however, very little research had been conducted on the matter. Fortunately, science affirms what most of us have suspected all along. Hiking is awesome for you!
A number of studies about walking and hiking suggest a direct correlation between hiking and a variety of health benefits. So far the list is impressive. Weight loss, prevention of heart disease, reduced hypertension (high blood pressure), improved mental health, and help preventing diabetes are just some of the benefits of regular walking and hiking.
Hiking is Affordable
Compared to taking up any other sports; hiking is about as easy on the wallet as can be. Having a good pair of trail shoes or hiking boots along with a small backpack are useful but not necessary for short beginner hikes. Of course you should always have a water bottle (Make it a reusable one in order to save money and the environment!) but that is hardly going to break the bank.
Hiking is a Life Habit
Hiking has no age limit. I recently ascended to the base camp of Mt. Everest and was blown away by the amount of gray hair steadily making its way up the side of the mighty mountain. Some of my fondest memories as a child were ones where three generations participated. Of course eventually we all slow down but that just lends credence to the old cliché; more time to stop and smell the roses.
If you’re a little bit crazy and/or ambitious (like my parents) you can also start little ones off early by popping them in a specially designed backpack. As they get old (and heavier) your kids can be eased onto the trail where they are walking parts and being carried by others. I am living testament that early exposure breads a lifetime of habits.
Time for Thinking
A growing body of research also suggests that walking and hiking have mental benefits as well as physical ones. A series of studies focusing on people who struggle with depression showed that people who went hiking copped with their depression much better than people who just went walking in shopping malls.
Hiking and walking are also anecdotally famous for helping people ponder complex ideas and working through difficult problems. Some say it is subconsciously observing the complexity of nature, some that it lowers stress and allows you to think clearer, still others suggest that hiking and thinking activate parts of your brain that aren’t as active in a lab or work setting. Whatever the cause, the number of “AHHA!” moments that have floated into great minds while hiking is another great reason to get out and hike.
Still not convinced?
Despite all the obvious benefits, plenty of people still need just a bit more motivation to edge them off the couch and into their boots. Here are some fun ideas for those of us who need that extra nudge.
According to the Geocaching website, “Geocaching is a treasure hunting game where you use a GPS to hide and seek containers with other participants in the activity.” Aided by increasingly accurate and affordable GPS units, geocaching has come a long way in the last 10 years. Where once you would wander in circles waiting for satellites before maybe finding you treasure, you can now use the web to pick caches with different difficulties, track where other cache hunters have come from, and communicate with the geocaching community about the upkeep of treasure troves you have found. A fantastic way to get kids on the trail!
For as long as people have been wandering the woods they have been fascinated by birds. Whether it be stunning colors, beautiful songs, or the magic of flight there is something about bird watching that keeps enthusiasts returning to the woods with their binoculars time and time again.
So the next time you find yourself trapped in the Sunday afternoon “What do YOU want to do?” vortex, take a hike and explore! It’s affordable, rewarding, and healthy to boot!