Disclaimer: Although we encourage physical activity, we advise readers to consult with their provider/primary care to make sure that strenuous physical activity is right for you. AFP Patients may call 413-549-8400 to make an appointment with their provider to have a discussion regarding physical activity.
Spring and warm weather is in the air, which makes this time the perfect time to lace up those hiking shoes and get outside. With over 150 State Parks in Massachusetts to explore with over 35 here in Western Massachusetts including the Mount Holyoke Range, Skinner Mountain, Mount Sugarloaf, and the Quabbin Reservoir ready to be explored, there are many health benefits that come with hiking. Hiking is not just a hobby for outdoor enthusiasts, the National Park Service says that hiking can build stronger muscles and bones, improve a sense of balance, improve heart health, decrease the risk of some respiratory problems, and improve mental health.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, “hiking is a good way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, particularly if your route includes some hills, which force your heart to work harder.” You can also significantly reduce your chances of getting heart related problems whereas people who don’t exercise double their chances according to 43 separate studies by the Centers for Disease Control. (American Hiking Society)
Hiking on an uneven surface provides a natural way of engaging your core muscles in your torso along with honing your balancing skills, in which a treadmill or riding a bike cannot provide as much. You can easily burn 200-250 calories per hour if you briskly walk at a rate of 2.5 mph and about 500 calories per hour if you walk at a rate of 4.5 mph.
Hiking can also help with lowering the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) which is one of the country’s top health concerns according to a USA Today Article. Hypertension can go undiagnosed which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Hiking can lower the risk of hypertension by 4-10 points.
Hiking can also lower stress which can be a cause of hypertension.
“If adrenaline, which is produced by the body to cope with real or perceived danger, it’s released from the body, it accumulates, causing muscle tension and feelings of anxiety. Walking releases this adrenaline.” (American Hiking Society)
Walking or hiking can release the endorphins in your body in which can lift spirits and keep such spirits for a long amount of time. According of Dr. Aaron L. Baggish, who is the associate director at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Mass., “There’s a real sense of peace and composure you get from being outside and away from everything.”
Before going out, make sure first and foremost that you are physically capable to go hiking. Schedule an appointment with your provider/primary care to double check along with how much strenuous activity you are physically capable or doing.
Always use the buddy system, not only for your safety, the National Parks Service says that hiking with a partner or even with a group can build upon the strength and health of your friendships and relationships. Whether it’s a significant other, sibling, close friend or even a Grandparent, hiking can help build stronger relationship bonds as well.
Know when the sun sets and what the weather will be like, having a plan will make your hiking trips less stressful. Always wear good shoes, wool socks, long pants, and shirts with long sleeves if possible. Between thorny plants, bugs, and poison oak and ivy, it’s better to be safe than sorry and get a rash that you could potentially allergic to. STAY AWAY FROM COTTON!!!!! Cotton will only absorb the sweat you produce and make your clothes wet, which can cool down your body too much. Always bring extra clothing, especially socks.
Bring plenty of water and high energy snacks such as trail mix!!! Take frequent breaks so you don’t overheat!!! And most importantly, just unwind and hike, you’re body will appreciate it.
Written by Alex LaMarche
American Hiking Society. “Health Benefits of Hiking.” American Hiking Society, American Hiking Society.
Corliss, Julie. “Health Benefits of Hiking: Raise Your Heart Rate and Your Mood.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard University, 28 Sept. 2016.
Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation. “Visit Massachusetts State Parks Locations.” Mass.gov, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Morgan, Kate. “These Are the Top 10 Health Conditions Affecting Americans.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 6 Nov. 2018.
National Parks Service. “Benefits of Hiking.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the InteriorNew York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation. “Hiking Safety.” New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation, New York State.