Hiking for Health and Happiness
Last summer, I packed my car full of camping gear and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. My destination, a two-hour drive from downtown Denver, was a campsite at the base of a mighty 14,259-foot tall mountain, Longs Peak. My plan was simple: set up camp, enjoy some fire-roasted kielbasa, sleep, and wake up just before sunrise to tackle the big rock.
Hiking has always been a part of my life. Growing up in Vermont -accurately named "verd mont" by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain (which translates to green mountain) - I spent every season outside of winter and mud season hiking. It was just something I did. I always knew that hiking made me feel healthier, happier, and stronger, but never fully appreciated why. That appreciation wasn't answered until I dove into the world of fitness and health.
Hiking can provide a myriad of both physical and mental health benefits. On the physical side, it's been shown to:
Lower your risk of heart disease
Improve your blood pressure and blood sugar levels
Boost bone density, since walking is a weight-bearing exercise
Build strength in your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and the muscles in your hips and lower legs
Strengthen your core
Improve flexibility and coordination
Help control your weight
On the mental side, research has shown that hiking has a positive impact on combating the symptoms of stress and anxiety, noted by Gregory A. Miller, Ph.D., president of the American Hiking Society. "Being in nature is ingrained in our DNA, and we sometimes forget that."
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to reach the summit of Longs Peak because of a fear of thunderstorms. Even though I didn't reach the top, I still got all the benefits of the 9-hour hike. It also didn't stop me from finding plenty of other hikes to do that summer. If you're going to do some hiking, I'd highly recommend the website/app, AllTrails (https://www.alltrails.com/). You'll find an endless amount of trails, and you can filter depending on your level of experience. You'll also be able to experience all the benefits that hiking in the great outdoors can offer.