Take a Hike
Nature and all of its benefits are something that more people need to take advantage of. To me, there is a clear correlation between the growth of cities and the decline we have seen in mental health over the years. I believe that if people were more in tune with nature and their surroundings, there would be an overall reduction in stress and depression, as well as many other physical health defects.
Hiking is one of my favorite things to do while out in nature as there are so many different trails and places to see, as well as a variety of benefits to enjoy. Being out in nature gives me time to decompress, explore new trails, come across wildlife, or even learn new species of plants. Hiking also never gets old. Even if you were to hike the same trail every day for a year, there would still be noticeable nuances on the trail each day.
As we know, one of the main benefits of hiking is that it is a physical activity and therefore is an excellent form of exercise. Many people know that walking and running burn nearly the same amount of calories, however, they may not know that hiking (although walking) can burn many more calories. When hiking you are often dealing with different elevations, obstacles, and time constraints leading you to burn more calories without even noticing it. Being that hiking is slightly more strenuous than walking it is a more effective way to build muscle, improve bone density, and improve cardiovascular health.
Aside from physical health, hiking can have many mental health benefits as well. Simply being outdoors has been shown to have many advantages to mental health. A study done by researchers at Stanford in 2015 stated that “people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.” This is significant as it shows that exercise may only be one part of the equation when it comes to improving mental health. Nature can be very nurturing, and allow you to become more in tune with your senses and gain a feeling of connectedness.
One of my favorite things to do on the trail is something I call a “sensory check.” Once I have made my way down the trail a bit, I like to slow down, live in the present and focus on my senses. Listen to the birds chirping or the water moving through the rocks in the river. Feel the sun on my skin, or the grass between my toes. Smell the flowers in the meadow. Watch as the sun sets. It can be a very grounding and beneficial experience. You can do this anywhere!
Although hiking can almost always be enjoyable, it is best to plan your hikes ahead of time and be prepared. When planning your first day hike, it is always better to pick an area that is closer to home and not too difficult. You should aim for your first hike to be about one to three miles round trip with an elevation that is manageable for you. Starting off with shorter hikes will allow you to get a gauge of how strong you are on the trail, and plan your hike more effectively in the future. There are many apps that can be used to find the right trail for you. The app that I like to use is called AllTrails. AllTrails is great as it gives you in-depth information and reviews of trails as well as the ability to download trail maps offline.
Once you have planned where you would like to go, it is time to pack some gear. If you are new to hiking there is no need to go out and spend a ton of money on the best hiking gear. Most of the time you will have all the essential items at home. All you truly need on a short hike is some water and a decent pair of shoes. However, there are some more items I recommend you bring along with you. A good thing to bring is a small day bag or fanny pack. Within this bag, I recommend bringing water, snacks, a very basic first-aid kit, and a flashlight or headlamp. I always recommend bringing more water than you need, as you can always chug water on the trail to save yourself the weight. Snacks are also always good to have to keep you going, as you will be expending a fair amount of energy. Pick whatever snacks you like best. The small first-aid kit is useful for the common minor scrapes and bruises you may pick up along your hike, and the flashlight is good for when you stay out longer than intended.
Trust me when I say the flashlight on your phone just won't cut it while out in the woods.
The last thing gear-wise that I would highly recommend, but is not crucial, is a good pair of hiking boots. A good pair of hiking boots will keep your feet and ankles protected and ensure you have a more comfortable experience while hiking. Additionally many hiking boots are waterproof which is good for lengthening your trip by allowing you to cross wet or muddy sections of the trail.
Now that you may have the knowledge and the gear, there is one last parting tip I would like to give you. Ever since I was a boy scout, I was a strong believer in the buddy system. Bringing a buddy along with you on a hike is a great way to have an even more fun and safe adventure. If you are going to hike alone you should always tell someone where you’re going, and when you’re planning to come back. If you're going somewhere far you may even want to think about investing in a GPS and satellite communicator. As always, use your common sense and don't push yourself. Just have fun, relax, and enjoy being outdoors.