My Relationship with Hiking
I grew up with a plethora of nearby trails and parents that were regular hikers, by all accounts I should have had a love affair with the great pastime of radical walking at an early age. Quite the opposite was true – as a child I was out of shape, allergic to poison oak and constantly forced to take to the trails so I went to the complete other direction.
It wasn’t until much later in life after college when I was broke, feeling a bit lost, and churning out job applications with a ferocity only a recent grad living at home can possess. My mind was reeling from all the applications and all the lack of responses, and it was at this point I began my journey into the world of hiking.
Mental Health Benefits of Hiking
At first hiking was a way to kill time for and take a break from the repetitious cycle of resume, cover letter, filling in forms with the exact same information in my resume that never seemed to properly upload, then clicking submit… Again, and again, and again. When it became too much, I would grab my trusty iPod classic, pop in my headphones, lace up my Merrell Moab Mids (still on version 1 back then), and get to stepping.
Almost immediately the mental benefits hit me… I challenge you to not smile when you get hit with the perfect storm of Sun, the beauty of nature, an elevated heartrate and the effervescent amalgamation of dirt, wildflowers and trees. All the stresses and rigors seemed to melt away, replaced by a sentiment of peace and contentment.
If you have ever had perfect hiking conditions, you know the feeling. More and more studies are coming out that show the vast mental benefits to spending time outside that effects everything from mental exhaustion to anxiety and depression. In fact, some studies have shown that as little as 20 minutes outside a day can vastly improve your mental well-being, whether that is hiking, running, walking your neighborhood or even just eating your lunch.
Physical Health Benefits of Hiking
In addition to the mental health benefits of hiking, there are the more obvious ways that hiking can positively impact your physical health. For one, hiking is a great cardio workout that will burn calories and improve your blood pressure and will do so even more than simply walking around your neighborhood. The varied terrain and any elevation will significantly increase the health-value of each step.
Additionally, hiking builds strength in nearly all major muscle groups in your legs, will strengthen your core and will even build bone density. Due to some injuries in high school, I developed bad knees but the relatively low impact (when compared to running or walking on pavement) and soft terrain of hiking allowed me to strengthen these problem areas without pain. Finding a pair of good hiking boots or shoes, particularly with some shock absorption like Merrell’s Air Cushion also makes a huge difference in limiting the impact on the joints.
How Hiking Effects Perspective
One effect of hiking that caught me entirely off-guard as I continued to effort up taller peaks and got into backpacking was how it changed my perspective on the world at large and my place in it. The feeling of summiting after some hard-earned uphill miles is such a satisfying achievement, looking back down a valley you just conquered is magnificent.
There is also nothing like looking back from on high to realize just how much beauty there is in the world and how small we really are, it truly gives you a sense that many of the things we allow to stress us out or keep us up at night might not be as life or death as we may think. This point of view also helps instill a sense of preservation and appreciation for the natural world and can reinforce efforts to conserve (recycle, avoid single-use items, drive less, etc.) this incredible world we inhabit. Something that Merrell is making great strides toward and offering eco-friendly products to support it.
How Hiking Effects your Social Life
One final method that I have personally experienced is how hiking can change your social life in so many ways. Hiking is one of the few strenuous activities that someone can partake while actively talking and sharing and, if you throw in the addition of endorphins from the exercise, you’ve got the perfect cocktail for developing a strong friendship. It is a far more picturesque setting than meeting at a bar or over food, and the constant activity (and often huffing and puffing) removes some of the awkwardness that may arise out of missed social cues or silences.
What’s more, there are countless meetups, clubs and organizations dedicated to hiking so if you happen to want to get out there but are unable to find someone to go with you, hop on the good old interweb. You are guaranteed to find some sort of hiking group planning an adventure nearby.
Whatever you want to call it – directed wandering, ambitious ambling, uphill trudging – hiking can truly change your life for the better from physical and mental aspects to your social circles. All you need to (literally) take the first step towards better living is an appropriate pair of footwear and a little motivation.
Follow @merrell for #TrailMixers to meet up with outdoor lovers alike.