According to neuroscientists, walking is a “superpower” we so often take for granted. Opposed to a common belief that walking is a simple action that comes naturally and requires no exceptional mental work, walking is, in fact, cognitively complex. While we walk, our brains are constantly involved in “cognitive mapping,” providing us with a sense of orientation and direction. Walking also uses our social intelligence as we’re trying to predict others’ behaviour, avoiding crashes, and collisions. In hiking, we can add even more variables to the equation – challenging uneven terrains we move in, and nature as a perfect surrounding for this activity. Read on to learn about how hiking can keep us younger, mentally, and physically, supporting our health and well-being.
Your Brain Will Be Thankful
Famous neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, in his recent book “Successful aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power, and Potential of Our Lives,” recommends hiking as a way of exercise that can keep your brain young. Hiking requires navigational skills needed to exercise the hippocampus- a brain structure that mediates memory. If we don’t give our minds enough of this stimulus, it can atrophy. Any physical activity you choose to engage in – yoga, riding a stationary bike, or an elliptical trainer, will positively impact your brain’s health by adding extra oxygenation that exercising stimulates. However, hiking adds extra value to your exercises. Every hiking activity includes a trail you need to navigate through, and that is never wholly predictable. Overhanging branches, slippery roads, trail marks – your brain needs to be aware of the terrain all of the time, calculate adjustments of your movements to get you to your destination safely and minimize the risk of injury or any other inconvenience.
The Emotional Side of Hiking Apart from the apparent benefits of hiking for your brain health and vitality, that elusive part of our beings, which we sometimes call our soul, benefits from this activity. Exercise, in general, is a stress-buster, and hiking in a natural setting can relive our anxiety and help us recover from the mental fatigue caused by the attention overload in our everyday lives, and even help us heal. Some other benefits you may experience are:
A natural energy boost,
A sense of achievement,
Less frustration and anger, having fun,
A feeling of self-worth,
Relieving mild to moderate depression.
For some experienced walkers, hiking The Cotswold Way or some other National Trail Route can be just the challenge they need to keep themselves motivated and gain a fantastic sense of adventure and achievement. Being in nature encourages feelings of awe and prevents rumination, so at the same time, astonishing panoramas along the way can soothe the minds of hikers and bring them peace.
It’s Great for Your Body As Well
The most straightforward and apparent benefits of hiking are related to your physical health, keeping you in good shape and fit. Like brisk walking, hiking is a perfect way to boost your cardiovascular fitness level, mainly if your favourite trails include hills, making your heart work harder. As a powerful cardio workout, hiking can help you: Improve your blood pressure, control your blood sugar levels, Lower the risk of heart disease, improve your balance, strengthen your core, Boost bone density, help with weight-loss, improve your balance. However, if you’ve just taken up hiking, make sure you start small. Go on local, shorter hikes, and as your fitness levels rise, you can gradually progress to more demanding trails. When you feel ready, head for the hills, as even a 5% to 10% incline can increase the calorie burn by 30% to 40%, For a stronger cardio workout, use trekking poles, and engage your upper body muscles in the activity.
Hiking Helps Your Relationships
Apart from all the mental and physical benefits of hiking, there is evidence that hiking can improve our social connections. Many of us like to go hiking with the people we consider close – our friends, partners, kids, or other family members. Spending several hours, or more, in nature, overcoming all the challenges together, leads to forming a special bond, producing deeper emotional intimacy, and creating many memorable moments that will always be cherished. Even solo hikers won’t miss out on human interaction. Along your way, you will meet other hikers, ramblers, and trekkers, and on a longer trail, experience a great sense of community like never before as you get to spend more time with these people. So, if you’re looking for an activity to help you stay young in your body, heart, and soul – hiking is a perfect choice. Check out the trails and the weather, hit the road, and enjoy.