Take a Hike! (Literally. It’s Really Good for You.)

man and woman enjoying the benefits of hiking

Hiking is more than just a way to hit your daily step goal. It’s actually a killer workout with both physical and mental benefits. “It’s the best exercise—it increases your endorphins quickly when you start at a good, steady pace,” says Michelle Lovitt, C.S.C.S, a Los Angeles-based trainer who often goes hiking with clients. “Plus it awakens the senses, too!”

If you’re considering trading your regular neighborhood stroll for a trek along trails, here are some of the benefits of hiking you can expect to experience.

5 Awesome Benefits of Hiking

You’ll increase your calorie burn.
Even if you stick to your regular walking speed, you’re likely to burn more calories hiking. According to the Mayo Clinic, a 160-pound person torches 438 calories hiking versus 204 walking—that’s more than double the burn! “The inclines and declines, as well as the uneven terrain require more muscles to be activated, increasing your heart rate, and therefore increasing the calorie burn,” says Lovitt.

You’ll stoke an afterburn effect.
Even if you’re not sprinting up hills, there’s a chance you can reach EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (a.k.a. the afterburn effect), explains Lovitt. If the trail you pick heads up a mountain and you’re not used to working out at elevation, your heart rate may stay elevated (for the majority of your hike. When you’re finished, your body will burn extra calories for up to 48 hours afterwards to rebuild its oxygen stores.

You’ll get an energy boost.
Instead of going for an afternoon coffee on the weekend, hit the trails. University of Rochester researchers found that fresh air can wake you up just as well as your usual cup of joe.

You’ll improve your mood.
You read that right—according to research, hiking in any type of green space for even just five minutes has been shown to help mood and boost self-esteem. And if you’re really ambitious, that same study finds that a full-day hiking and camping trip could result in stronger improvements.

You’ll get a full-body workout—brain included.
As Lovitt mentioned, the difficult and uncertain terrain causes you to engage many different muscles in your body. “You may need to jump over or off a boulder, crawl up a path, or balance on a downed tree to cross water,” says Lovitt. “Hiking takes the boredom out of exercise because you really have to pay attention to your surroundings, where sometimes with walking you can just turn your brain off.”

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great article! I love the idea of walking in nature Amy! Something many people today forget about. I didn’t see in the post the addition factoid: all of our ancestors CAME from nature and this is our roots!

    PS. When I say humans I don’t mean those things tied to devices all day! Why the new FITBIT is absolutely key, it ties the device to you and allows for the utmost natural experience.


  • This was great reading! I started walking along our county road with a pedometer in the VA Move program. The road had little if any shoulders and steep drop-offs, then I went off road, much more relaxing but the pedometer just didn’t count the steps. I decided to get my first tracker at that point, and built up to this spring hiking between 7 and 8 miles while climbing 1800 feet and achieving about 600 to 700 calories per hour for 3+ hours.

    I noticed an elevated heart rate when I did these longer walks, I wasn’t exactly certain of what was happening but didn’t think I was adding on load at too fast of a rate. I did notice towards the end that going up any grades my legs were getting tired out easily. At least the trip home is down hill mostly, makes for a good way to cool down.

    The time part was getting out of hand so I re grouped, I was carrying 22# of gear and I added a few more pounds and dropped to 4 miles and about two hours for the summer. I am using all of my water so that is becoming a limiting factor for now.

    I have found leg bags to be the desired way to carry my gear, that leaves my back and shoulders clear. When I get onto some old logging or mining roads I like it, lets me lengthen my stride and speed up.

    Adding a few pounds of weight is a great way to increase the effort, also keeping to an established route will let you time your hike to see how your doing.

    Until I started hiking exercise was just boring, walking in the hills is far from that, about a month ago a hawk was flying under the tree canopy, I saw it just seconds before it nearly reached me, panic must have gripped the hawk when it realized it was not alone, as it heeled over in a right turn it crashed into a tree limb. It recovered quickly however and climbed into the uncongested air above the trees. I wish they were a little slower, or my camera was faster, or both, but it is one of the great stories I have.

    When winter comes, you don’t have to stop hiking, snowshoeing takes traveling into an all new level of challenge.

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