With it being World Wellbeing Week (Monday 24th – Friday 28th June) it is worthwhile finding out the best activities for you to enjoy the outdoors.
According to Google trends, the interest in hiking in the UK has been increasing in popularity over recent years, with more people giving it a go. The mental health benefits of hiking are plentiful. A study carried out in 2009 at the University of Rochester shows that humans prefer to be surrounded by natural environments. Gladwell et al. highlights that “nature provides an environment that does not require our direct attention, giving nature restorative properties therefore allowing recovery from mental fatigue and attention restoration”.3
AXA PPP healthcare physiologist, Sarah Kemp highlights the key benefits of hiking and the positive effect it has on your physical and mental wellbeing:
– Cardiovascular health – It’s a fantastic way to improve your cardiovascular health and give your whole body a good workout. “Because hiking is across undulating terrains, we have to use our stabiliser muscles and the upper body really comes in to play. Hiking offers a much more full bodied workout than walking, especially with a hilly route, as it’s stressing the cardiovascular system while also working your glutes (bottom muscles) and quads (upper leg muscles) to manage the terrain. While walking is great, the varying nature of hiking means it works the body harder and is more challenging, meaning a hike up a hill is more beneficial than a jaunt around the block!”
– Bone health – Is also supported with hiking due to the activity’s low impact on bones, as it doesn’t stress the joints in the same way as running does, making it an ideal activity later in life when bone density naturally starts to decrease.
– Inclusive – Hiking is a physical activity appropriate for a huge range of people, more so than exercises with a higher impact like running, which may not be suitable for those who are losing bone density or have mobility issues.
– Adaptable – Whether you want a short, flatter 30 minute hiking route or (are physically fit enough for!) a four hour hike in the hills that really tests your fitness, hiking is something that everyone can take on. Plus, carrying a rucksack means you can add in some extra weight safely to really up the benefits.
– Variation – To avoid getting stuck in a rut and Sarah suggests hiking as an alternative exercise for regular gym goers who feel their routine may have plateaued a little. “Hiking can be a great alternative to build up your strength in a different way to being in the gym. A 30 minute hike on active recovery days would be enough to flush out the built up lactic acid in your lower body muscles”.
While hiking offers a multitude of benefits, there are also precautions to take, especially if you’re new to it, have not exercised in a long time or have muscular or joint problems.
– Be realistic – As with any new form of exercise, don’t overestimate your capabilities. Start small and build up your distances or the type of terrain. This way you’ll help to prevent injury and not be put off from the first try.
– Set goals – To keep it challenging and give yourself something to work towards. Break things down into manageable chunks and remember to celebrate each time you go a bit further or a little rockier.
– Plan your route – This is really important. Not only so you don’t spend valuable hiking time trying to navigate your way, but for your safety and so that you know you’re undertaking a route suitable for your ability. Maps are a great way to physically plan your route and you can take them with you.
– Tell someone – If you’re going alone, make sure others know where you’re going. If you get lost or injured (and don’t get any service on the phone you’ll no doubt take for emergencies like that!) it’s vital someone knows where you are.
– Take rest breaks – Hiking can be a really rigorous form of exercise so making sure you take breaks is crucial – you don’t want to get half way through and be absolutely exhausted! But if you are really working up a sweat, do be cautious when taking off a rucksack, as the rapid cooling down could cause a severe chill.
– Check the weather forecast – It may be fine when you set off but the weather can change rapidly, making it difficult to navigate and walking conditions treacherous.
So if you’re ready to go for a hike, there are a few things we recommend for your kit:
– Hiking boots: be sure to break them in before you head off for hours, otherwise you won’t get too far! Sarah recommends to “start off small, on local and familiar terrain in order to break them in”. Having a good, sturdy pair of walking shoes is really important for protecting your ankles and providing sufficient grip over varying terrain.
– Water: Keeping hydrated is of the upmost importance with any exercise. Be sure to take plenty of water and a little extra, just in case you don’t quite follow the map as intended!
– Appropriate clothing: make sure it’s comfortable to walk in, breathable and appropriate for any weather. Pack a raincoat even if it’s due to be a sunny day – being caught in a downpour without a waterproof certainly won’t help with the mindful moments you’re looking for!
– Sunscreen: because exercising outside means sun exposure. Don’t forget to apply before you go and top up if you’re on a longer hike or day out.
– A phone: not to be on, but as a safety net if something does go a little pear shaped.
– High energy snacks: to keep your energy levels topped up as you go, and to have as a breather when enjoying the view!