I recently decided to start hiking several times per week as a way for me to get my steps in. I am bored to tears on a treadmill, as I am sure most people are. And, just walking around the neighborhood has gotten monotonous and predictably easy. So far it has been a great experience, and I have realized that there may be more benefits of hiking than just getting in your steps. Particularly when it comes to improving heart function and avoiding heart disease.
3 Benefits of Hiking for Heart Health
The experts at the American Heart Association recommend that every American adult engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity just about every day of the week, at least 2½ hours per week. This can easily be done with a brisk walk. No reason to engage in Navy Seal level workouts or the CrossFit Games. Just get outside, get some fresh air, and put in those steps.
3 benefits of hiking for heart health
- Improved cardiovascular function
- Weight loss
- Stress Relief
Improves Cardio Function
Hiking, particularly when going up and down hills and over uneven ground, can be a great cardio workout. Any activity that elevates the heart rate for extended periods (at least 30 minutes) strengthens the heart and improves the health and function of the arterial walls. It lowers blood pressure, regulates cholesterol levels, and helps stabilize blood sugar levels…which lowers the risk of heart disease, strokes, and sudden heart attacks.
The added benefit of being outside and getting direct sunlight helps raise the body’s Vitamin D levels. There are many studies recently showing Vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes. Our bodies produce Vitamin D on their own, particularly while in direct sunlight. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It can also protect us from a host of diseases and conditions, such as diabetes. The problem is that more and more people are spending less time outdoors. This is creating a general deficiency in the entire American population.
Dr. Erin Michos, director of the Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center, suggests that to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D most adults on average probably need 1,000 to 2,000 International Unit (IU) a day.
Helps With Weight Loss
Hiking is a fun and challenging way to exercise for weight loss. Since you can easily change the intensity and location of your hiking experience, you should be able to keep boredom to a minimum. Walking has always been a great way to shed some pounds. But, hiking up and down hills and over uneven ground has the added benefit of creating conditions not unlike a HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training workout by incorporating bursts of high intensity aerobic activity followed by brief periods of recovery.
HIIT is highly regarded as an excellent fat burning workout, because it elevates the body’s EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) factor to burn more fat and calories long after the workout is finished. After a workout, it takes a bit of time for your body to return to “Homeostasis”, or your normal state of operation. Walking 60 minutes at a steady pace on a treadmill, for example, is good exercise. However, the fat burning potential for that workout ends as soon as you step off the treadmill. A HIIT workout, however, has the ability to have you burning fat for up to almost 36 hours later. This of course is a brief and simplified explanation of this process. But, I think you get the idea.
High-intensity interval training also helps patients in cardiac rehabilitation lose fat and build muscle, according to a pair of studies from the American College of Cardiology.
“Dun and colleagues compared body composition changes among 120 patients at the Mayo Clinic who completed 12 weeks of cardiac rehabilitation after a myocardial infarction. All the patients started with 1 week of moderate intensity training. Then, 90 patients switched to HIIT for the remaining weeks, whereas 30 continued with the more traditional moderate intensity regimen. Patients in the HIIT group lost ≈4 pounds more fat, gained about a pound and a half more lean muscle, and trimmed about 1 inch more off their waist, compared with the moderate intensity group. However, there was no difference in the 2 groups in terms of overall change in body weight.”
The science is in, folks…exercise improves your mood and relieves stress. And hiking in nature is one of the most accessible forms of exercise there is. Being out in the sun and fresh air is a natural mood booster and can improve mental health. According to a study done by researchers at Stanford University, spending time outdoors can lower anxiety, reduce stress, and even lower the risk of depression.
Unmanaged stress levels can increase your risks of heart attack, strokes, and cardiovascular disease. With most Americans living with constant low level stress in their lives, exercise can be an important part of managing and eliminating stress from their day. Hiking is high on the list for stress management activities, because it is accessible to most and combines the stress busting benefits of moderate exercise and fresh air!
Heart Healthy Hiking Tips
While it’s true that going for a hike is a pretty easy thing to do. Here’s some helpful tips to make sure you get the most out of your time in the great outdoors.
- Wear hiking boots or comfortable shoes
- Make sure to take water and stay hydrated
- Take a friend for safety
- Wear cool loose-fitting clothing
- Research the trail before you go to ensure it meets your fitness levels
Here is a great article from KOA with many hiking tips and tricks for you to check out…CLICK HERE!
Finding A Trail Near You
If you are new to hiking, you probably don’t even know where to go. Here is a list of tips on how to find a great trail to hike near you. As you get more into it, some of these resources will be great for finding
places to hike that may be a destination or holiday trip.
- AllTrails is an online resource that offers information on trails all over the world. Just type in your location, and you’ll receive info on trails with pictures and a brief description. They have a paid Pro Plan that allows you to download maps and access other handy features
- If you’d like to have a handy app on your phone, then Trailforks is a good choice. It also has a Pro Feature that allows offline map downloads and access to over 40,000 trails.
- The Hiking Project is a free resource that is contributor built, as an Android and iOS app, and boasts over 76,000 trails in it’s database.
- Believe it or not you can find trails to hike in your local area by searching Yelp! and TripAdvisor. They may not be as accurate or in depth as other resources, but you can find a trail!
- Local municipal and government websites. All of the local parks and rec sites around my home town have listings for trails. They typically don’t have much info, but at least it’s a place to start.
- Hashtag searches are another great way to find trails near you. Just go on Instagram and search hashtags like #(your city)hiking.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In other words…”Everyone starts somewhere.” In this article I have given you more than enough information to begin hiking for heart health in your local area. The first step is getting out your front door and doing it. That is of course always the hardest part. Beginning a new healthy habit is always easier than maintaining it. That’s one of the reasons I created my Accountability BFF program. This is a great coaching program for anyone who needs a little help staying on track.
If you don’t know where to start, I’m here for you. Each and every week I set aside times for what I call Success Strategy Sessions. These short (and FREE!) coaching calls are designed to get you moving toward your goals and reaching them at lightening speed. During the call we’ll talk about where you currently are, where you’d like to be, and come up with some quick actionable steps you can take right away. These calls are FREE, but I only have a limited amount of time to do them each and every week. They are “first-come-first-serve”. If you’d like to schedule a free Success Strategy Session CLICK HERE!