9 Proven Benefits of Hiking

proven benefits of hiking
As someone with a chronic hiking addiction, of course I'm going to preach all about the benefits. But don't just take my word for it. Science (yes, actual science) and people far smarter and more qualified than me have proven a ton of benefits and here are some of them.

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I have hiked (well, mostly wandered) on and off most of my life. But I never got really into it until the Covid lockdowns of 2020. These days, it’s my cardio activity, my outdoor time, my therapy and so much more. So of course me (as one of those really annoying people who wants everyone to love hiking just as much as I do) is going to preach all about the benefits.

But you don’t even need to take my word for it. Scientists have proven there are benefits too. So here are just a few of the very many benefits of hiking – some based on science and some based on experience.

It’s a proper cardio workout

hiking at grey mare's tail

You know what the treadmill is? 

It’s basically torture in a gym. All that effort and the only view you get is of the people ion the gym who like to flex their bicep in the mirror. So turn the bloody treadmill off and take your on-foot cardio outside.

Pretty views and still a cardio workout.

The calories you burn hiking will vary depending upon elevation, distance, speed and your fitness.

But as a guide, if you walk a flat 10km as someone who weighs 80kg, you can expect to burn over 700 calories.

One of my recent hikes was Devil’s Kitchen and Y Garn in Snowdonia. 

It was 9.7km, 750m elevation gain and my apple watch estimated I burned just over 1,000 active calories.

It’s a calorie burner and, particularly when you hit those hills, it’s a workout for the heart too.

Hiking can help reduce stress and anxiety

I’ve often said that hiking is my head’s quiet place. I do a lot of solo hiking and I tend to choose mountains or routes that are quieter than others.

I love the quiet time out and away from it all.

I started hiking really regularly when I was feeling particularly stressed and anxious. It made so much difference to me.

And that’s not only my experience. Anecdotally, lots of hikers talk about the benefit on their mental health. 

Many forms of physical exercise have this positive impact on mental health. Hiking, being coupled with the outdoor access, is really wonderful headspace for me.

Research also backs up that walking in nature can help reduce anxiety.

Hiking reduces your risk of depression

This ties in nicely to the above point about stress and anxiety reduction. But a Stanford study found that walking in nature could lower your risk of depression.

Vitamin D

Many of us have a vitamin D deficiency in the UK. One way to get more of this essential vitamin is to spend more time outside.

Now, you could argue that running or, frankly, any other outdoor pursuit will do that.

Of course it will.

But my own experience with hiking is that I spend a lot longer outside hiking than I do paddleboarding, swimming or running. For me, the summertime is about 16 hour hikes.

Plenty of vitamin D. Don’t forget your sun cream!

Muscle building

We tend to think of hiking as great for cardio activity. But did you know it can also help to build and maintain muscle mass?

Walking up hill in particular makes your glutes and most of your lower body work hard! If you’re into scrambling, then your upper body gets a workout too! 

Help to improve balance

I may have mentioned (or banged on about) the fact that I love a bit of scrambling.

This type of hiking in particular requires balance and can help you improve your balance.

Functional balance is incredibly important in our day to day lives and can help prevent injuries and accidents as we age.

Hiking has social benefits

I hike solo a lot. But from time to time I hike with friends or even professional acquaintances. There are so many hiking groups out there that if you’re looking to make friends and enjoy some social time, it can be a great way to do so!

It’s an inexpensive hobby

It costs nothing to walk. And even if you have a bit of an equipment buying habit like me, it’s still a pretty affordable hobby. You don’t need anything more than a decent pair of boots and a waterproof to hike in reasonable weather conditions. And even if you’re not totally sure of navigation, there are so many way marked trails and walks that you can just get out and start walking quickly and easily.

Problem solving skills

I learned to map read in my thirties just to improve my hiking navigation. Yes, I tend to use paper maps and a compass as a back up (and electronic navigation first) but I learned! 

Route finding and adapting is in itself something of a problem solving skill and the more you hike, the more you do it and develop.

And so many more reasons to hike…

This is not remotely exhaustive as a list of benefits of hiking.

Add to that seeing the country, your local area, the world…

Or the fact that you have thinking space, learn about nature, sleep better at night…

The list goes on. 

Granted, I’m biased. But if you haven’t headed up a stunner of a hill in your local area before, then just do it. Pop a pair of boots on and just head for a hill.

I’ve never taken a single hike and not felt better for it yet.

 

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