Hiking Up Your Health

Hiking Ha Ling

Here we are in the Canadian Rockies, hiking up a mountain called Ha Ling trying to get more air into our lungs, sweating profusely and silently cursing our host for telling us how “easy’ this hike is. Lauren is behind me asking for a water break but I know myself if I stop this is going to be a lot harder so I continue to push feeling my legs and lungs burn. I have the water so Lauren has no choice but to continue, I pick a tree up a head and tell her we can get a break there. It continues on like this for the remainder of the hike up.

When we get to the top it is a breath-taking view, worth every step. Upon finishing the trek down we are both spent but exhilarated, feeling amazing and hooked on hiking.

On our journey out west we went on a handful of different hikes all amazing, all worth doing and all much harder then anything out here in Ontario. Even though we don’t have the same elevation out here we still love to go for hikes and to experience all the health benefits hiking has to offer.

A walk through the city is definitely not a hike, a hike involves rugged terrain that means dirt paths not a side walk. A hike takes place surrounded by nature and this is one my favourite parts about it, it gets me away from the computer, cell phones and the everyday modern distractions that I feel so frequently bogged down by.

As I have fallen head over heals for hiking once again, I have started to wonder about all the health benefits it has to offer and there are a lot which is only continuing to convince me hiking needs to be a regular activity in my life.

Hiking Tent Ridge in Alberta

Hiking improves joint health!

Due to the rugged terrain we experience during hiking it makes our joints move and function in different ways which strengthens and increases different ranges of motion. We spend most of our days walking and being on flat perfectly manicured surfaces, like our floors at home, side walks, roads, etc. All of them lack what the natural world typically gives us when we go on a hike which is different angles, obstacles and other fun stuff.

Our body adapts to the forces we put into it and if we only ever walk on flat ground our ankles become more susceptible to injury since we are never using them at various angles. I have noticed a big increase in my ankle strength and health by going on my hikes. It is the walking on uneven and natural ground that puts a greater array of forces into us which makes our body adapt to deal with them more effectively in the future.

I have found that we can also get these benefits while being in a more contemporary setting by walking on the grass next to the sidewalk. This will always have more variety to it. Hiking, however, still takes the cake since there is many more things to adapt to like roots in our way, angled ground, boulders, etc (aka cool shit).

Lowers stress

Some of us are more country and some of us tend to be more city at heart, I definitely lean towards the country even though I live in Toronto but science shows us that we are all country at heart.

In Japan there is something called forest bathing where you essentially take a hike in the woods and take in the forest atmosphere around you. Researchers in Japan did a study they took a group of people split them up and half walk through a city and one walk through the forest and then they had the groups switch places. The findings were remarkable, they saw lower concentrations of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the forest walkers, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity (rest and digest nervous system) and a lower sympathetic nerve activity (fight or flight).[1]

This study proves something many of us have probably already known that going for a hike through the woods is a fantastic stress reliever and is extremely good for our health!

If you’re into fitness and/or performing at a high level then lowering stress should be a major priority as it can have a serious impact on our ability to take on the world.

They have also shown that viewing photos of natural landscape can help manage stress levels as well. That is one of the many reasons I love looking at my brothers photo’s, he is a talented landscape photographer. The photo below is one of his and how can you not feel good looking at something so incredible.

You can find more of his work at:

www.Instagram.com/jakegrahamphoto

www.jakegrahamphotography.ca

Jake Graham Photography

Photo by Jake Graham

Boosts the immune system

Stress is not good for the immune system so by lowering it we automatically give our immune system a boost but it has also been shown that forest bathing in of itself does give the immune system a nice boost by increasing the activity of natural killer cells.[2]

I used to go to an all boys camp in northern Ontario for a month at a time when I was younger, the only building with electricity was the kitchen and we used to go to the bathroom in KYBOs (Keep your bowels open) which were basically wooden platforms with a toilet seat over a really deep hole. Even in those conditions, where it could get really cold some nights and we would have to swim in the lake no matter how cold it was, I can’t remember over my 9 years there ever being sick (there were a number of stiches though). This constant forest bathing must have made my immune system a Rockstar over that month.

Therefore, if we are ever feeling under the weather it is a good idea to go for an easy hike in a forest environment to boost our immune system.

Great for the eyes:

Our eyes are awesome things, hell if you’re reading then you’ve should be thanking them for working. One of the issues of our modern lifestyle is that we only look at things close to us, like the screen you’re reading this on. For most of us the furthest we look away is when we are driving but the rest of the day we tend to only look 20 ft or so in front of us maximum.

Our eyes were designed to look at things near and far! (no shit Sherlock)

Well most of us myself included forget about the far part and it can degrade our eye health. I have had a very hard time making out names of companies on the sides of massive building in the past. When this happened I realized there was a big fucking issue that needed to be addressed, I wasn’t using my eyes to look far away and to look at details for away.

Since then I have been training my eyes to look far away by taking breaks during the day and looking at whatever I can see out the window that is far away, the other way is going on hikes and just looking around. These two strategies have really improved my eye health and if you have vision issues this could help you too.

Summing it up:

In the end I can’t make you go hike, I can’t drag you off to the woods to walk around, (well I could but I would probably end up in jail for abducting you) the only one that can do that is you. We need to decide personally if we want to go out for a hike. I know I love to hike because it makes me feel awesome. Its fun to go on a hike by yourself or with people and have a nice conversation where no one is pulling out their phone to check Instagram.

Not every hike needs to be up the side of a mountain, tame hikes through the woods are wonderful as well and they still give us the benefits outlined above. Oh ya did I mention that it is also good for your heart and muscles? There are so many positives to hiking because we evolved to be awesome hikers its what we were designed. So I guess the question is why not go for a hike?

 

Sources: 

[1] Park BJ, et al. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environment Health Preventative Medicine. 2010 Jan; 15 (1): 18-26.

[2] Qing Li. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental health and preventative medicine. 2010 Jan; 15 (1): 9-17.