Hiking is a fantastic fitness activity that does not feel like a traditional workout. There is no instructor, no treadmill, no machines, and no weights. It’s you (and maybe a friend or two) and nature. If you are new to hiking, always start with a beginner trail and consider consulting your physician if you are uncertain about your physical health. Here are are the benefits of hiking for fitness and how to get the most out of it as a workout.
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How Hiking is Good for Fitness
Hiking can be considered LISS, or low-intensity steady-state cardio. According to Women’s Health Mag, LISS is defined as a low endurance workout that is done at around 50-65% of your max heart rate. You should be able to hold a conversation while working out, so nothing should ever feel super challenging. If you feel breathless, you should lessen the intensity. In hiking that might mean going slower, using hiking poles, and starting with an easier (shorter, less elevation) trail.
Although the recent fitness trend has been LISS’ sibling HIIT (high-intensity interval training) there are so many benefits to LISS that can’t be overlooked. Since it is low impact, it is easier on the joints. LISS can be as simple as power walking or hiking, which are scalable activities for any fitness level. Hiking in particular can help break the monotony of a normal gym or workout routine. LISS is also great for burning fat and contributing to weight loss.
Hiking for Weight Loss
There are so many benefits of hiking, but in terms of it being an effective workout, it can certainly help with weight loss. As an aerobic (cardio) activity, the number of calories burned is heavily dependent on your speed and incline.
According to Healthline, in an hour a 120-pound individual can burn approximately 292 calories at a 1-5% grade or 440 calories at 6-15% grade. If you are unfamiliar with grades, next time you are on a treadmill try increasing the elevation. A 6-15% grade can feel like a mid to very steep hill. Luckily, hiking in nature can help distract you from elevation changes, especially if you are rewarded with a view.
Want to burn more calories while hiking? Carry a heavier backpack, which will elevate your heart rate. Another idea is to choose a harder trail with higher elevation. Just make sure to know your limits and start slow, since you don’t want to be caught exhausted mid-trail with a long hike back.
Hike Higher Elevation to Build Muscle
While hiking is a great cardio workout, it can also build muscle, especially if you choose the right trails. A leisure hike that is flat and short will help build your endurance but not as much muscle. To effectively tone your legs choose a trail that has a significant increase in elevation. Going up and down steep slopes will effectively work your posterior chain (or lower back and legs) and be more of an anaerobic (muscle building) exercise.
Although it is not easy or for beginners, hiking down a slope can actually be more difficult than hiking up a slope. You will feel your leg muscles try to stabilize you even just while standing. While hiking up a hill is like a stair master (working your calves, quads, hamstrings, and glutes), hiking down a slope is where you can level up if you really want to build muscle.
Tips to Make Hiking a Full Body Workout
While hiking is an excellent lower body workout, you can get your core and arms involved as well. A backpack is perfect to hold your belongings but also requires upper body strength and core strength to support. If you are looking for a lightweight foldable backpack I highly recommend the Lightweight Packable Outlander Backpack. These backpacks last for years and are so convenient, I bring them not just for hiking but on almost any vacation where I might need extra storage.
To get your arms involved, use hiking poles. When going up hills, use the poles for support to get your biceps and triceps involved, which will also lessen the load on your legs. When going downhill, your legs will need to be used for stabilization. These hiking sticks from Amazon are highly reviewed and adjustable.
The Mental Benefits of Hiking
Admittedly, this is not a physical benefit but it is so important it needs to be mentioned. Fitness is critical not just for physical but mental health as well. Hiking is no different, and for many people, hiking can help support better mental health.
Researchers at Stanford University conducted a study that found hiking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. This is especially important if you live in an urban area. Their study showed that those who took a walk in nature saw a lower risk of depression than those walking in urban areas. Previous studies have also shown that nature walks can help with cognitive function and memory and lessen anxiety.
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Do you hike now or do you plan to start? Let me know your thoughts on hiking for both your physical and mental health.