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The health benefits of hiking in the great outdoors

Body

1, 2, 3—Hike! Taking a hike outdoors is a great idea. Not only is hiking a lot of fun (you never know what you’ll see), but it’s also a natural boost for both your body and your mind.

Hiking through a forest or along the river’s edge can be a refreshing change from urban walks. The air is cleaner, for one thing. And a long walk seems somehow shorter when you’re surrounded by the beauty of nature.

So what are other health benefits of hiking? Take a look.

A bonus for your body

Hiking offers up all the cardiovascular benefits of a brisk walk—and more. For example, hiking may:

  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Decrease your heart rate.
  • Boost your immune system.
  • Strengthen abdominal (core) muscles.
  • Increase your energy and stamina.
  • Help you sleep better.
  • Aid in weight loss.

Hiking over uneven ground may also improve your balance. But if you have any worries about staying steady, here’s a hiking tip: Use walking or trekking poles for added safety.

Medicine for your mind

Perhaps hiking’s biggest benefit for your mental health is a reduction in stress levels. If life has you feeling anxious, hiking is a great antidote.

Hiking also has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and improve your overall sense of emotional well-being. There’s even some evidence that our minds perceive exercise to be easier when it takes place outdoors.

10 hiking essentials

Unlike a brisk walk around the neighborhood, hiking does require a little planning. Here are 10 things you should bring with you anytime you go for a hike:

  • The right footwear. Buy a pair of hiking boots with good ankle support. (Be sure to break them in before you set off on a hike.)
  • A map and compass. They can help you find lots of things—campsites, water and your way out if you get lost.
  • Extra water. Not just because you’ll get thirsty, but also because hydration helps your muscles work better.
  • Extra food. It could come in handy if your walk ends up being longer than you expected.
  • The right clothing. Dress in layers so you can adjust to your comfort level. Depending on how far you’re going, raingear also might help just in case the weather turns.
  • Matches, a light and a whistle. The matches may come in handy for campfires if you’re going to be out late. A small flashlight or headlamp can help you read your map. Use the whistle to signal if you get lost.
  • First aid kit. Prepackaged first aid kits are available at any outdoor store.
  • Knife or multipurpose tool. Use it to repair any malfunctioning gear or remove splinters.
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses. These are necessary any time of year, but especially when you’re hiking in sun-bright snow.
  • A backpack. You’ll need something to carry all these essentials!

Spending a lot of time outside this summer? Check out these five tips for summer-safe skin.