Hiking is an accessible and equipment-free form of exercise that you can do almost anywhere. While most will agree that hiking does provide a dose of happiness, is it an effective way of exercising? Here is how hiking can help you attain your health and fitness goals.
What Is Hiking?
In exercise literature, hiking is defined as an uninterrupted cardiovascular exercise performed in the wild. Hiking is different from a nature walk in that you can ‘walk’ your dog around the block, whereas hiking takes hours, is sustained, and includes inclines.
Hiking and the Musculoskeletal System
Hiking is not only a cardiovascular activity; it can also bolster your strength and lean muscle mass. In a study that involved 65 to 85-year-old high-functioning individuals, an intervention group undertook moderate mountain hiking for seven days. The hiking entailed steady gait requirements, balance challenges, and inclines. After seven days, the hiking group’s muscle mass, total body water percentage, and fat-free ratio increased significantly. In addition to these body composition markers, the hiking group’s static balance and gait speed improved significantly. As you get older, your muscle fiber gradually degenerates, your fat-free ratio drops and there is less compliance due to collagen deposition. Impressively, hiking led to improvements in all those measures, minimizing the results of aging and enhancing the hiking group’s fitness.
In another similar study, participants aged around 29 years hiked for 25 days at a high altitude. At the end of the study period, all the participants had a lower waist-to-hip ratio and more lean muscle mass, thanks to a decrease in belly fat. This type of exercises often helps stabilize blood sugar levels as well.
Hiking and Metabolic Syndrome
Aerobic exercise will generally benefit your cardiovascular health. However, the fascinating part is that intense and consistent hiking can also impact comorbidities – particularly, metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome affects the body composition markers and leads to a unstable and dysfunctional nervous system. This effect increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Early research indicates that consistent hiking can reduce your metabolic syndrome and improve the outcomes for other immune and cardiovascular effects. Additionally, a study comparing metabolic syndrome markers for groups hiking in low and high altitudes found that the markers improved in both groups. This means you don’t have to hike at a particular altitude or place to enjoy the benefits of hiking; your local hill or trails is good enough.
In a nutshell, adopting a consistent hiking regimen has a positive impact on body composition measures such as fat-free ratio, waist-to-fat ratio, lean mass, and abdominal mass. In addition to the physical benefits, hiking can bolster your mental health as it allows you to calm your mind by stepping away from everyday bustle and hustle, spending more time with nature.
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