Walking Towards Better Mental Health

In the United States, there are over four hundred national parks, thousands of everyday community parks, and over twenty-one thousand miles of walking trails. There are so many options when it comes to hiking outdoors.

I’m a hiker, I’ve always been a hiker, and I think everyone (who’s physically able to) should be a hiker. Here’s why!

When it comes to exercise, an article by WebMD mentions hiking being a “powerful cardio workout” that strengthens your core, improves balance, and builds strength in your lower legs and hips.

This exercise from hiking contributes to good physical health by improving blood pressure and blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of heart disease, and monitoring weight. And to top it all off, exercising outdoors opens your senses to your surroundings by improving your sensory perception.

Let’s set aside the physical health benefits for a second, though, and recognize the amazing impact that hiking has on a person’s mental well-being.

According to a study done by Stanford University researchers on the National Park Service website, spending quality time in the great outdoors calms anxiety, reduces stress, and can help prevent depression. Fresh air is good for the mind, body, and soul. Also, the exercise gained from hiking links to positive mental health.

I feel so much better about myself after a good workout, and hiking is a cardio, leg, and butt workout. The steepness of the hills and rocks helps with glute and leg muscle strengthening, which is something you can physically feel as you’re hiking! And once the hike is finished, a large amount of walking, mixed with the fresh air, always leads to a good sweat and heavy breathing that is so exhilarating. Once you have a second to cool down, drinking some cool water and getting a bite to eat is oh so refreshing.

The really good thing about hiking is that it adds pleasure to the exercise. For me, walking outdoors up some steep cliffs, while looking out at a beautiful view, is way more fun than walking on an indoor treadmill. Hiking allows you to exercise while still enjoying your time and seeing new parts of the world.

Hiking is a great way to get together with friends or family and explore the earth, but it can also be an awesome thing to do alone. If you’re having a rough day mentally, getting outside and having some time for yourself is self-care. Hiking offers you peacefulness in nature, where you can get away from your thoughts and gain some quality “you time”.

When hiking, it’s important to be comfortable in what you’re wearing. I like to wear spandex material leggings or shorts, depending on the weather. I find that this material is the most comfortable because it’s cool to the touch and super soft and stretchy for climbing.

I personally love Lululemon’s Wunder Under leggings and shorts collection. The material lasts, they're cute and comfy, and there are so many different colors to choose from. I wear my Lulu’s whenever I travel to National Parks. If these are too tight and form-fitting for you, try Athleta’s Headlands Hybrid Trek Joggers. They’re soft and cool to the touch, which is good for possible sweating because their spandex material helps cool the body down faster than other fabrics!

Lastly, for some hot summertime hiking specifically, the Free Climb Shorts from Free People are perfect. They’re form-fitting, while still being a little looser/outward flowing towards the bottom. They have a high-rise stretchy waistband with a tie in the front, and are great for a warm-weather hike!

While having style is of little importance when it comes to good exercise for your mental health, it’s still always a good thing to wear something you feel confident and comfortable in. With hiking, it is possible to look good, and feel good.

What I love most about hiking is that it never gets boring. I personally don’t listen to music when I hike because I'd rather have peace and quiet and listen to nature instead. But, some people really enjoy the music aspect. I recommend that if you do listen to music while hiking, you go for some instrumental songs or more classical/relaxing sounds.

When I hike alone, I sometimes bring a book along to read, and it’s extremely fulfilling. Depending on what trail I’m on, I’ll hike to a certain spot to open my book, where I have a good view and feel comfortable.

Most of the time, though, I hike with my boyfriend, friends, or family. We enjoy taking in the different scenery and exercising together.

Whether you’re hiking the trails of your own backyard, or climbing the mountains in Yellowstone National Park, you’re bettering yourself in so many ways.

I strongly encourage you to try out hiking if it’s something you’re not quite into yet. It’s a great way to help yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. It will only better you and your quality of life. Some of my most memorable moments have been while hiking on all different kinds of trails, all around the world!

Hiking creates exercise, which creates a healthier mind!

By Emma Baugher

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