Time to hike!
Hiking is not only a way to make life-long friendships, it can also help you build muscle and improve your cardio while you explore the natural beauty of this incredible planet.
Let’s jump in and explore the benefits of hiking from peer-reviewed research and through some of my personal experiences as a life-long hiker who completed the Pacific Crest Trail spanning from Canada to Mexico.
- New Friendships
- Increased Strength
- Improved Cardio Fitness
- Cost-Effective and Unparalleled Adventures
- What are the research-backed benefits of hiking and walking?
- How often should you hike for health benefits?
- Tips before going on a multi-day hike
- Reasons to Hike – Summary
- About the author
Unlike the gym, hiking provides plenty of fresh air, beautiful views, and some life-long memories. If you hike with people, you get the added benefit of new or improved relationships.
In fact, my relationship with my wife, Mugsy, began in the great outdoors.
Hiking continues to be one of our favorite ways to travel.
If you are looking to build muscle in your legs and glutes, hiking is an awesome place to start. The constant ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ means that hiking works a wide variety of muscles. If you have ever gone on a longer hike, you know what I mean. Your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves can be quite sore the next day.
Wearing a pack makes for an even more intense burn.
Improved Cardio Fitness
The varied terrain also keeps your muscles and lungs working in overdrive. I first realized this after hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail for a couple of weeks. At one point I tried running to test my cardio. I could run 10 miles with relative ease. That was by far the furthest I had ever run.
Cost-Effective and Unparalleled Adventures
If you can get time off, longer hiking trips are also an awesome way to explore and travel. After our first year teaching, we went to Bolivia and Peru. It felt like we had gone back in time. We saw people literally separating the wheat from the chaff by hand and by donkey. We hiked our way to ancient cities and onto snow-capped peaks.
On other occasions, we’ve hiked in the Himalayas.
Along with the memories, long-distance hiking allows you to eat whatever you want while staying in great shape. Hiking has allowed me and many friends to indulge in some of the delicious local cuisine when traveling – guilt-free!
Now let’s jump into research-backed benefits of hiking.
What are the research-backed benefits of hiking and walking?
Don’t take my word for it alone. Various research studies back the awesome benefits of hiking and walking. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that walking can help you maintain a healthy body weight [1, 2], improve cardiovascular health , and can lead to lower blood pressure [4,, 5].
Additionally, walking and hiking can also enhance your:
- Bone health 
- Cholesterol levels 
- Quality of life 
- Sleep quality 
- Balance and coordination 
- Mental health 
How often should you hike for health benefits?
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2nd edition), most people should aim for 30-60 minutes of daily exercise at a moderate intensity. Hiking at a brisk pace for 30-60 minutes might be a good place to start.
Personally, I walk to and from work which usually takes me about 25 minutes each way. Listening to audiobooks and taking in the river views is an added bonus.
Tips before going on a multi-day hike
Getting out into the backcountry for a multi-day trek can be a little intimidating. Check out these expert tips to prepare for your next adventure.
Train by hiking with a pack
Sure lifting weights and running are good for you, but if you want to get in hiking shape, the best thing to do is to hike with a pack. I have tried hitting the gym three times a week for months, but by the second day on the trail, I was still hobbling around with super sore muscles.
In the personal training and physical therapy worlds, this is the principle of ‘specificity’ in action (Hawley, 2008).
You want your training to specifically match your desired goal. In this case, your goal is the ability to consistently hike long distances while wearing a pack
If you plan to hike a trail with plenty of elevation, you will also want include climbing in your training. I first learned the value of this style of training after a man who was more than twice my age was able to hike twice as far as me on the most challenging mountain trail I have experienced.
After asking him how he trained, he confided that he lived in the prairies so he hit the stair climber hard for 30 minutes, three times a week while wearing his weighted pack.
Correct muscle imbalances and postural issues
For years I thought rolling my ankles multiple times each hike was just something I had to suffer through. My physiotherapist proved me wrong. I booked a session after dislocating my knee.
After a few months of training my core with a series of anti-rotational exercises and a plan to correct muscle imbalances, my ankles hardly ever rolled on the hiking trail.
Don’t wait as long as me.
I encourage you to visit a physiotherapist before embarking on a training plan to see what you might improve.
Invest in lightweight gear
If you plan to make hiking a life-long hobby, investing in lightweight, high-quality gear sure makes for a more enjoyable experience. Contrary to what you might think, light weight gear isn’t always more expensive or less durable. The Sawyer Squeeze water filter and the MSR Pocket Rocket stove are a couple of examples – they are both extremely popular items on the Pacifiic Crest Trail.
Taking time to research high quality gear and putting the items on your birthday wish-list is a great way to gradually level up your hiking game.
Reasons to Hike – Summary
Now that we’ve traversed some of the amazing reasons to hike – why not take some time right now to plan your next hiking adventure!
For some extra pre-planning inspiration, check out Outdoor Fitness Society’s post on Inspiring Hiking Quotes for Everyone that Loves the Wilderness
About the author
Chad Alexander BSc, MEd, BEd is a personal trainer, weight loss coach, and blogger at Fitness Minimalists. He is on a mission to educate and empower people to level up their fitness with only the essentials to live more confident and adventurous lives.