Get Outside!: The Health Benefits of Hiking

The drive from Portland to Bend

The drive from Portland to Bend

Hey hey!  We are two days into our recovery from Memorial Day Weekend and I hope you had a relaxing weekend filled with friends, food, and fun.  Nick, Reymie (the dog), and I headed out to Bend, OR for the first time.  Bend is known for its high desert climate and its close proximity to the Cascade Mountain range, as well as its many craft breweries and its dog friendliness!  In fact, Dog Fancy Magazine named Bend “DogTown USA” in 2012!  When we heard amazing hiking, a huge cycling community, craft beer and a love for dogs, we knew this was a city we needed to visit!

IMG_4449On Sunday we hiked around Tumalo Falls in Deschutes National Forest and managed to find some of the last bits of snow.  Snow makes Reymie super hyper and she had a blast catching snow balls!

Reymie catching snowballs!

Reymie catching snowballs!

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On our way back to Portland on Monday, we stopped at Smith Rock State Park and hiked around there.  Wanting a good workout, we chose the trail named “Misery Ridge Trail” and it did not disappoint!  We left with that calm feeling you get after spending time in natural spaces and sore legs and glutes!

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That evening I was reading the latest Fitness Magazine and came across this fun fact:

“Being physically active in green space outdoors improves mood and strengthens self-esteem, both of which are major motivators, according to research from the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.  Even better: It takes only five minutes to reap the feel-good benefits, so do a lap around a park.”  – Fitness Magazine, June 2013.

Hiking and many other outdoor activities can be a regular part of your cardio workouts and exercise routine.  Regular aerobic exercise (defined as “exercise that increases the need for oxygen,” so it gets your heart rate up) has many many health benefits including:

Family portrait :-)

Family portrait 🙂

  • Reduced depression
  • Better quality of sleep
  • Improved muscular fitness
  • Lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, and colon and breast cancer
  • Improves arthritis
  • Relieves back pain

Doing “moderate-intensity” aerobic exercise, where you can talk but you can’t sing during the activity, for 2.5 hours a week leads to most of the benefits listed above.  You can spread that 2.5 hours throughout the week or dedicate one weekend morning to a brisk walk through your neighborhood or out in the nearest natural area. Of course, the more time you spend doing aerobic exercise, the more health benefits you will reap.

Hiking can burn 370 calories an hour (more or less depending on how quick you are walking and your age/weight/height/etc) and makes you work almost every part of your body, including your legs, core, arms, and back, and improves your balance.  In addition to the physical health benefits of hiking, it also promotes a general sense of well-being and can have a huge impact on your mental health.

Walking and hiking causes the release of endorphins, which are natural tranquilizers and “feel good” calming chemicals.  It also releases adrenaline from the body.  If adrenaline isn’t released, it accumulates and causes muscle tension and feelings of anxiety.  Studies of walkers have shown immediate decreases in tension, anxiety and blood pressure, regardless of how fast or slow the participants walked.  In the University of Essex study mentioned above, 75% of the people that engaged in outdoor activities such as hiking saw reduced feelings of tension, anger and depression and 68% of study participants reported increased levels of self-esteem.

Now that it is almost summer (in many parts of the country, it already IS summer!), get outside!  Go for daily walks with your kids, pets, partners or friends.  Take your lunch break at work outside and find a grassy area to sit and eat.  Look up nearby hiking areas here and explore on the weekends.  Seek out vacations and get-aways that offer a lot of outdoor activities.  Going camping is way cheaper than staying in hotels in far away cities, so its a great way to get out of town on a budget.  Not only will your mind thank you, but your work out routine will have an added boost of excitement and newness which will keep you engaged and motivated.  ❤

For more information, see: The Good Hiker, American Hiking Society, and Live Strong.

All SMILES in the park!

All SMILES in the park!

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