“Have you ever met anyone who regretted taking a good, hard day hike? Me neither.
There’s something special about moderately paced movement through nature that leaves one feeling refreshed, renewed, and satisfied. Because of that, hiking is rarely considered a sport in the same way as trail running or mountain biking, both of which are more acutely painful and taxing on the body. And yet recent studies show that a walk in the woods -- especially at the right tempo -- is a superb way to build endurance and strength.
For a study published earlier this year in the journal PLOS One, a team of researchers affiliated with the University of Innsbruck in Austria had individuals complete two three-hour workouts under distinct conditions. The first was a “fast walk” on an indoor treadmill; the second was an outdoor hike through mountains. In the treadmill condition, the incline settings were contrived to mimic the outdoor route as closely as possible, so that the physical strain of both scenarios would be similar…
During and immediately following both workouts, the researchers collected physiological and psychological measures. What they found is interesting, a bit paradoxical, and fully in support of hiking.
For starters, participants pushed themselves harder during the outdoor hike, as evidenced by heart rates that were, on average, six beats per minute higher. Given this, you’d think the participants would have experienced the outdoor hike as more tiring and perhaps less enjoyable. But the opposite occurred: They reported increased feelings of pleasure both during and immediately following the outdoor hike, and they said they felt less fatigued afterward…
…Previous research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the psychological effects of hiking in nature versus an outdoor walk in an urban environment. Those who went on a 90-minute walk in the wild not only self-reported decreased rumination but also demonstrated decreased neural activity in the part of the brain associated with anxiety and depression. In other words, hiking challenges the body and at the same time seems to soothe the mind.
Martin Niedermeier, PhD, lead author on the PLOS One study, says that nature --and green environments in particular -- can reduce perceived stress and fatigue…
As for when to swap out traditional workouts for hikes, Kropelnicki recommends doing so any time “at least six weeks out from sport-specific races.” This means that if you’re training for a competitive endurance event this fall, now could be the perfect time to take a hike. I can promise you won’t regret it.”
-- Brad Stulberg, “The Most Underrated Endurance Workout? Hiking,” Outside magazine, September 11, 2017
* * * * *.
As many of you know, hiking can provide as much exercise as you want, from an easy, leisurely mountain walk to a truly intense, challenging mountain workout.
If you’re someone who isn’t in shape for harder hikes, or who simply wants some gentler exercise, there’s no need to push yourself any more than you wish.
Many of you have done easy or easy-moderate hikes for years and find them to be just the right amount of exercise, complemented by the other pleasures of nature.
Whereas others of you prefer or love moderate or moderate-strenuous hikes for their hefty doses of healthy fitness-building and endorphin-rich mountain highs.
Exercise is unquestionably good for us, and spending time in the natural world offers a host of other benefits. For some of us, the exercise of hiking is the best!
-- Charlie Cook