If you need a bit of motivation to go hiking (as if), here are just some of the multifaceted benefits of a trip to the hills.

All hikers will agree that the benefits of hiking are undeniable. How could exercising in the peaceful countryside surrounded by fresh air and nature not be good for you? Hiking uses almost every part of your body so the benefits really are universal. There are the physical benefits, mental benefits, social benefits and educational benefits. You probably don’t even realise half the benefits of your Sunday hike but your body and mind are definitely already thanking you for it. So put your hiking boots on and reap the short and long-term gains.

Physical Benefits of Hiking

Benefits of hiking

1. Improves Fitness, Builds Muscle, Strengthens Bones

Improving fitness is probably the most obvious benefit of hiking. Of course, walking for hours is going to help your fitness but studies have shown hiking to actually be better than walking for the same amount of time on a flat surface. When walking on a flat surface your body gets used to the rhythm and doesn’t have to exert as much energy. Walking on uneven surfaces disrupts this rhythm and supposedly increases the amount of energy used by up to 28%. On uneven terrain and hills, you need to use more leg and core muscles to keep yourself balanced. You also engage small muscles in your knees and hips. This can reduce the risk of overuse injuries in these joints. Plus, walking is a weight-bearing exercise so this increases bone density. Hiking is also a lot nicer than walking on a treadmill or along the street.

2. Actively Improves Health

A study by the German Sports University in Cologne has revealed that hiking can increase antioxidative properties in the blood of cancer patients. The study measured several agents in the blood before and after a hike and saw an improvement in both men and women.

Hiking can reduce blood pressure by 4-10 points according to studies. It reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke and lowers cholesterol, removes blood sugar and improves glucose tolerance.

As hiking is an aerobic work out it improves your respiratory and cardiovascular health. Because you change pace a lot as the terrain and incline change this will keep your body working. The change in intensity will also target fat stores.

3. Improves Sleep

As well as being physically demanding hiking requires you to stay alert and it stimulates all your senses. This uses a lot of energy both physically and mentally. Hiking causes people to relax and reduce your body’s response to stress. This not only helps you sleep but also improves the quality of sleep.

Body temperature is a trigger that lets your body know when it’s time to sleep. Your body temperature naturally drops at night time and increases in the daytime. Hiking causes your body temperature to increase further during the day. Your body temperature drops further at night on days that you exercise rather than days you don’t. The increase in the difference between day and night time temperatures will improve your sleep.

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Mental Benefits of Hiking

Benefits of hiking

4. Improves Your Attention Span and Creativity

Hiking improves blood flow and oxygen to the brain which enhances several areas of the brain. These include the areas responsible for concentration, focus, memory and happiness. Some research has shown that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50%.  The lack of smartphone coverage could play a part in this too.

5. Increases Happiness and Reduces Stress

Research has shown hiking to be effective as an additional therapy to those suffering from depression. It helps people feel less hopeless, depressed and suicidal. There are also mental health benefits of hiking to those not suffering from depression too. As well as improving your sense of wellbeing, exercising releases a build up of adrenaline that accumulates in the body when not physically active. This build-up of adrenaline causes anxiety and tension if not released. Exercise also releases endorphins which makes you happier for the rest of the day.

6. Time to Reflect

With modern technology, we always have something to keep us busy, from television on demand to social media. We are always contactable and a lot of people struggle to leave work in the office once their work day is over. With so many external sources demanding our attention, sometimes we forget to stop and reflect. Hiking is perfect for this. A lot of the most beautiful places for hiking don’t have mobile phone reception and the combination of fresh air and fabulous views, as well as physical activity, give your mind a chance to wander.

7. Sense of Achievement

Ever look at something and think, “I could NEVER do that”? Ever try anyway? You probably realised that it was much more attainable than you thought and felt great about yourself once you completed it. There’s no better feeling than looking up into the clouds to the peak of a mountain or across at a point in the distance and seeing how far you walked once you have completed it. That sense of achievement might be the boost you need to start your week feeling motivated and powerful.

Social Benefits of Hiking

Benefits of hiking

8. Join a Hillwalking Club

Joining a hiking club comes with so many benefits. You can take on more difficult hikes that you didn’t feel comfortable doing alone. With the expertise of other hiking club members, you will feel safer and you might even learn a thing or two about navigating and other hiking skills. You’ll meet people from all walks of life and of all ages. Hiking is a fairly accessible sport for everyone so not only will you get to know more people, you’ll get to know people you might never have crossed paths with within your usual social circles. Mountaineering.ie have a directory of hiking clubs for each county on their website that is well worth a look to scout out the nearest club to you.

9. Hike with other Families

If you want to get your children into hiking a great way to make it more enjoyable for them is to team up with another family. Organise games for the kids to keep them entertained and don’t forget lots of snacks and water. They’ll have a great day out and definitely sleep well that night.

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10. Socialise in Real Life

Put your phone away and appreciate the views through your eyes, not through a screen. We live so much of our lives through the internet. It’s exhausting. Talk to some real human beings and take in some fabulous sights first hand. A few hours away from your phone will do wonders for your mental health and social skills. Human beings need face to face communication so get a gang together and forget about the Insta likes.

Educational Benefits of Hiking

Benefits of hiking

11. Learn about the Environment and Nature

Do you know your swift from your skylark? Your alder from your aspen? Your bird cherry from your broom? By surrounding yourself with these native birds, trees and plants you can’t help but learn about the wonderful species we have living on our little island. Many walks will have boards along the routes detailing the flora and fauna in the area. Alternatively, nature and conservation charities like Birdwatch Ireland have resources available on their websites and books available to buy with information about native species in Ireland.

If you are hiking with children you can make this into a game by printing off pictures of a number of animals, flowers and trees and getting the kids to tick them off as they see them like a nature scavenger hunt.

12. Navigating Skills

In Ireland, the weather can go from sun to rain to fog in a matter of minutes. If these changes catch you off guard when you’re out and about it might be an inconvenience but if a heavy mist suddenly comes in while you are hiking it can be very disorientating and even dangerous. Don’t let your lack of navigational skills deter you, however. Mountaineering.ie have a series of guides and videos to get you started with navigating and other useful skills. Hike with someone who knows how to navigate or go with a hillwalking club and learn from people who know what they’re doing. Try out your navigating skills on small, safe walks at first until you get the hang of it.

13. Learn Outdoor Survival Skills

If you want to go one step further and really learn the ways of the wilderness, there are several outdoor survival skills or bushcraft skills courses. You will learn to forage for food, build shelter and start fires among other useful skills. Several companies around Ireland offer courses like Outdoors Ireland, Bushcraft.ie and the Bear Grylls Survival Academy.

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By Heather Snelgar

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