Along with the physical health benefits, the climbs & descents also strengthen you mentally & emotionally. Enhanced physical stamina, demolished mental blocks, and a restored faith in yourself, trekking or hiking transforms in ways more than you can think! As it naturally follows, trekkers lead a happier and a healthier life than the rest of the crowd. Trekking surely is holistically therapeutic. In fact, hiking is a good exercise to start with. Let us understand the key health benefits of trekking or hiking. We are beginning with the physical aspect, shifting later to the mental & emotional ones:
1) Musculo-Skeletal Health
Trekking helps tone the muscles while enhancing their elasticity. This strengthens and powers up the muscles. Needless to add, the biggest beneficiary is the legs, particularly gluteal muscles (buttocks), quadriceps (legs), hamstrings (back of the thighs), inner & outer thighs, hips, and calves. Oblique muscles (abdomen) neck, shoulder,& arms muscles & bones are also groomed. All this while, your bone density is increasing and the density loss or osteoporosis is slowing down. Trekking is especially helpful for people with joints & back pain, a condition called arthritis. The mountain trails are comfortable and softer for the feet, ankles, knees, back, and hips as compared to the concrete ground. Carrying a backpack enhances the benefits and works additionally on your upper body strength. A stronger & toned musculoskeletal system and reduced body weight with intense practice on an unpredictable and steep terrain help in improving your body balance.
2) Control Body Sugar and Lose Those Extra Pounds
Trekking also aids the body to fight Type 2 diabetes. Since muscles are intensely working during trekking and hiking, they need energy. The body uses blood sugar to fuel muscle activity. This reduces the excess sugar in the blood, while also increasing the body’s insulin tolerance. In addition, when the blood sugar levels fall inadequate, the body uses its fat reserves to provide energy. Due to intense bodywork for long hours during climbing, initially sugar and then fat fuel up the body. You burn around 200 calories per hour when trekking with approximately 30 pounds (13.6 kgs) backpack. The weekend treks are the shortest and even they include some 15-18 hours on foot. Try calculating the approximate fat burn! Note that the amount of calories lost is directly proportional to the weight you carry during trekking and the altitude you scale. An increase of 10% incline in hiking boosts calories burn by around 30-35%, while a backpack weight increase of 10-15 pounds accelerates the fat burn by approximately 10-15%. This does not mean you overburden yourself. Stay moderate and within your body’s capacity.
3) Increased Heart & Lung Capacity
Regular trekking and hiking are said to reduce the blood pressure by 10 points and balance the body’s cholesterol & triglycerides levels as well. This helps improve the circulatory & respiratory system health, thereby reducing the probability of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular pains & respiratory disorders. In addition, the more you breathe fresh air the more active your lungs become, more blood the heart pumps, and healthier it all turns. Use a trekking stick for walking support. Fixing the stick on the ground and pushing your body against it to move further, works on your upper body muscles and heart.
4) Grow on your softer skills
A practical way to gain management skills is a trekking expedition. Target setting, planning, organizing, team building, goal orientation, adaptability to change, and mental strength – read perseverance & determination – all traits are cultivated as a ‘necessity’ to help you reach where you need to. You have to pull yourself up and then push exactly as you arrive at that line of ‘undoable.’ This is your learning point and from here, you form your learning curve. Be ready to surprise yourself, to discover yourself, to know that you spent a significant part of your life underutilized. By the time you reach your goal, you have the foundation for personal growth.
5) Anti-Depressant and Mood Swing Counter
While traversing through the ‘magnanimous’ mountains, you savor the ‘simplest yet life-changing’ experiences. You connect with the bountiful nature, its healing sounds, and the myriad colors, spans, & creatives, like the hills, the meadows, the brooks & lakes, the greens, the frolicking fauna, and the most indispensable ‘you’ & your ‘inner peace.’ Even the routine and ignored sun, moon, and stars seem to shine like never before. Kindness & empathy starts kicking in. Concisely, you become more active, feel adequate, positive, & stress-free, sleep well, and grow happy. You are evolving. Keep trekking.
6) Fight Diseases like Cancer
According to a study, hiking can even help the patients fight the deadliest of diseases like colon, breast, lung, and endometrial cancers. International Journal of Sports Medicine measured the antioxidants levels in the breast cancer patients, before and after hiking. The levels improved after the activity. Higher the antioxidants in the human body, higher is its capacity to fight infections and catalyzes recuperation. Life is bigger than the diseases and nature helps you cope very effectively. Hiking and trekking are one of the best ‘body-friendly’ activities.
With a host of trekking related physical benefits, fresh oxygen infusion, positive mental frame due to endorphin hormone, emotional pleasure, social interactions, reduced confusion, anxiety, & anger, increased energy because of adrenaline hormone, and improved life skills, naturally your happiness index is high. Nature can fill your life to the brim. Just give it a chance to take its own course. Make that first effort of going on a trek and change your body, spirit, and life for good!
Also, read Sun Protection 101 - Staying Safe in the Bright, Sunny Outdoors ( Especially on High Altitudes )