Hike It Out

This time of year is almost my favorite. There’s no secret that I do not love winter. Because I do not love the cold and ice and dark. Which, I know, seems contrary to the fact that I currently live in Alaska. But, please, don’t remind me of my insanity. Instead. Spring means days are getting longer, the snow is melting, the air is warming. And, most importantly. Spring means it’s almost my favorite season. Summer in Alaska. 

With summer here, we get all night sunlight and access to some of the best hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking and all other activities outside. And I love everything all of that means. 

Eventually I’d love to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Camino de Santiago (among others). But in the meantime, some of the best trails are quite literally in my backyard. 

But, what’s the point of hiking? Of walking mile after mile for the purpose of…walking?! I must be crazy to love it so much, right?

Well. Before you judge me so harshly, let’s talk about it. First, think about the views and the fresh air. There’s your first perk. Not enough? 

How about how hiking can:

  • lower your risk of heart disease
  • improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • boost your bone density, since it is a weight-bearing exercise
  • build strength in your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, as well as hip and lower leg muscles
  • improve your balance

When you look at that list, maybe it starts to seem more appealing? Hiking is a powerful cardio workout. And, one real advantages is that it can be catered to your interest and levels. 

If you’re a beginner and you’re just getting out there for the first time, pick a flatter trail, plan for rest breaks and know your limitations. But, as you progress, you can pick longer or steeper trails, you can go longer between breaks, carry a weighted pack or work up to jogging or running portions. 

Hiking near Girdwood, Alaska

No matter your fitness level, you can get the excellent cardio workout that you want or need out of a great hike. 

Now, let’s circle back to those great views and fresh air. A lot of what I talk about comes back to our mental health and our mood. Because our health is not merely defined by our muscular strength. We can do all the right workouts and eat all the right foods. But unless we are taking care of what we’re feeling and thinking, what we’re saying to ourselves, we aren’t taking care of our health. 

So, we’re out on the trails getting a killer cardio workout. But what else are we doing? We’re healing our minds and souls as well. Seriously, this is where I do some of my best thinking and connecting.

Studies have found that those “who walked for 90 minutes in a natural enviornment reported lower leves of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness.” Simply speaking (less sciencey), hiking can help stop our negative, obsessive thoughts.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” -John Muir

Removing ourselves from our stressful environments benefits our psychological well-being. It can also help us boost our creative problem solving as we spend time disconnected from technology. Between technology and urban noise, our cognitive functions are taxed. Our attention is simply divided. And, by disconnecting (and so connecting to nature) we can improve our performance on problem solving tasks. 

According to the CDC, more than 10% of children in America are diagnosed with ADHD. And, in the States, it is quite common for our solution to be medicine related. While medication may be the proper way for many people to treat their diagnoses, there are ways we can help reduce symptoms naturally. 

And, have you guessed, hiking has been shown to help reduce symptoms of ADHD, benefiting those with difficulty paying attention or with impulsive behavior. Therefore not just beneficial to children diagnosed with ADHD, but adults as well. 

Alright. What’s the moral? Hiking is a killer cardio workout, it has a plethora of physical benefits, and it allows you to not just disconnect from technology and remove yourself from stress – but to connect to yourself and to nature. It not just builds your glutes, but can boost your brain power and reduce negativity. 

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what we need most in the world right now? Less negativity.

Get your boots ready and get out on the trails! Let me know what amazing view you have planned for this week or summer. 

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