Whether you want to lose weight, spend time outside with your friends and loved ones, or unplug from the legion of screens, you may want to consider taking a hike. There are a lot of physical and mental health benefits that come with regular time spent outdoors. My name is Nathan Jablonski, and I am a General Manager in Winder, GA. I have been with the Company since November 2020, but before joining the TMX Finance® Family of Companies, I worked for a health and nutrition store. I am also a reservist in the United States Army (so yes, I have done my fair share of rucking), and I have trained for and completed nine obstacle course races, trained in powerlifting, and have been highly involved with working out for the better part of a decade. I wanted to share some benefits of hiking as well as tips and tricks I have learned from the military and the Boy Scouts. However, right now, I want to advocate a bit more for why everyone should consider taking a hike.
Taking a hike is a great way to spend time with your family. Some of my earliest memories with my family were us spending time in the woods – camping, hiking, and rock climbing. One of my first dates with my now wife was walking around our small town, and now we regularly go on small half day hikes with our 7-month-old son. It also teaches self-reliance and awareness of your surroundings. When you are out there, it is normally up to your group to take care of things. One of my absolute favorite things about hiking is the solitude and opportunity to unplug from all of our devices. It is very difficult to get away from the social media, constant updates, and overwhelming stimulation of a world connected by computers that fit into our pockets. Hiking is also simple to grasp, but it does have a lot of areas in which you can improve. After all, it can be as simple as just walking in the woods, or as complicated as a multi-week trek with resupply points every 100 miles. The choice is yours.
No matter what kind of hiking you choose to explore, there are a number of undeniable benefits with it, both physical and mental. On the physical side, you could improve cardiovascular health, muscle and bone strength, and muscular endurance, especially if you choose to hike with a weighted pack. Hiking can also help improve your balance as stepping up or traversing on uneven terrain can lead to better control of your body. If weight loss is one of your primary motivating factors, it is difficult to beat the all-day calorie burn you get from hiking. Most experts estimate the average hiker burns between 440 and 550 calories per hour! While this is not as much as running up and down trails, it is a lot more sustainable and a great place for people to start. Not only that, but who doesn’t crave better sleep? Hit the trail! Between the physical and mental exertion, you could get some of the best sleep you have had in a long time.
Now I know some of you are saying, “yeah, all of those physical benefits make sense, but how can hiking provide mental health benefits?” According to jerseyislandholidays.com and backpackingblueprint.com, mental health problems could be reduced by 50% when you hike regularly. 50%! Are you kidding me? By hiking in one kilometer of green space, it could reduce anxiety by 30%, and you are 25% less likely to suffer from depression. Cortisol levels (the stress hormone that can cause weight gain, mood swings, and issues regulating other vital hormones) could drop by as much as 13.4% from hiking for 20 minutes. Unless you only hike at night, you are also bound to get Vitamin D. Low Vitamin D levels could cause a whole host of issues like depression, frequent illness, fatigue, back pain, slow wound healing, and muscle pain. Last but definitely not least, if you take your family or friends hiking, it is also a great way to build relationships!
For everyone who is raring to get out and hike, just remember to do so safely! Here are some basic safety tips to get you started:
- Tell someone about your hiking plan.
- Try to start with an experienced group, or at the very least go with a couple of other people.
- Practice near home before you go out, especially if you are using new shoes or a weighted pack for the first time.
- Start small and build up to larger hikes.
- Bring enough water and snacks (anyone who knows me knows I was going to mention snacks at least once).
- Bring a small first aid kit to cover blisters, sunscreen, chafing, and/or small cuts and scrapes.
This is just a starter list of safety considerations. You should also take your environment into account and any personal requirements/limitations you may have.
As I wrap up, I do want to impart some hard learned lessons from my time in the Boy Scouts and military. My advice is to dress in layers, because sometimes it is better to have a light jacket and light t-shirt than to have a long sleeve shirt that can only be used as a long sleeve shirt. Always remember, ounces equals pounds and pounds equal pain; if you bring it, you carry it! Do, how do you control the ounces? Only bring what you need to be safe and have fun on the hike you are going on (if you are not planning on spending the night outdoors, then you can probably forgo the heavy tent), and look for multi-use or lighter versions of gear you are already carrying (think ramen noodles over canned foods). I recommend to start hydrating three days before your hike and eat a good meal the day before with lots of carbohydrates for energy. Finally, take care of your feet by bringing extra socks, a blister care kit (and yes, I know this was mentioned under safety, but blisters really are that miserable), taking breaks when needed, and DO NOT wear brand new boots without breaking them in first!
So, to everyone who has made it this far, I encourage you to have a great day, be safe, take advantage of every chance to soak up the beautiful outdoors, and TAKE A HIKE!