Picture it: A hiking bag is all packed with the essentials, and the only left to do is lace up those brand new hiking shoes. They're likely a bit stiff but that's okay because the three-day trip ahead will surely fix the problem. The final knot is tied in the shoes that will guide any hiker through a challenging multi-day trek, and upon stepping out of the car, a burst of fresh air is met with blissful excitement. That first step out onto dirt terrain is all it takes to make clear the pact has been made.
This is why many hikers are now experiencing for the first time and, according to science, it might not just be a coincidence that so many are doing it.
The Science Behind Why Hiking Has Peaked
Back in 2020, everyone discovered the Great Outdoors. Whether it was through their backyards or a remote hiking trail, inevitably, all of us had made a connection with fresh air and a bit of relief from being indoors. While that much is understood quite easily, determining why so many people turned to hike, specifically, as an outdoor activity is a bit more complicated. It was determined that hiking has now come in fourth as one of the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S. The only outdoor activities that precede it are fishing, running, and biking. This is likely only because they're more easily accessible except for fishing, which is also a food source. Hiking has managed to come before any other recreational activity that can be done outdoors including any one sport, as well as walking, which is no small feat.
A Generational Influence?
Since many of the hikers who have helped to bump the popular outdoor pastime fall into the category of either 'Millenial' or 'Gen Z,' it can be surmised that they might also have something to do with its popularity. Not only are the younger generations opting to get outside but they're also opting for experience over anything monetary.
It seems that the allure that can be found in a multi-day trip to Yosemite vastly outweighs the excitement of spending a week in Cancun or Cozumel or holing up in a resort somewhere in Europe. The beauty to be discovered has not been lost on those who wish to capture it, whether it be via mental image or a literal photo.
As It Turns Out, Hiking Has Some Incredible Benefits
It comes as no surprise that an activity such as hiking, which can be incredibly physically demanding, has its health benefits. However, a hike isn't just helping one physically - there's proof that it could be healing the mind, as well. A multi-day hike offers a commute back to nature that has proven to be wholly worthy of any holistic medicinal technique, especially when it comes to the art of unplugging.
Physical Benefits Of Hiking
Hiking is, first and foremost, a cardio activity. Similar to that of power walking, it requires the body to be in constant motion to work. Therefore, the short-term benefits include an increased metabolic output, encouraging the body to work harder for each step. Additionally, it's an activity that encourages some level of strength training, as well. Any trail that features rock scrambles or vertical climbs will inevitably work all parts of the body - not just the legs and feet. It's one of the few recreational activities that trains one to exercise all of their muscles as they ascend or descend a trail, not just their lower body.
Mental Benefits Of Hiking
While all of this is happening physically, a hiker probably doesn't even realize the tremendous mental benefits that are occurring. For starters, studies have shown that hiking helps to reduce 'brooding' and 'ruminating' thoughts. We've all been plagued with thoughts that simply won't leave our minds and for those suffering from anxiety, it's like having a constant marquee of bad news circulating in one's brain. The dedication and effort it takes to commit to a hike have been shown to slow these thought process down, if not rid a person of them entirely, if only temporarily.
While this is happening, hiking encourages neurogenesis, which helps to stimulate the growth of new neurons within one's brain. This is a great benefit - not only does hiking increase actual muscle growth but while that's happening, it's stimulating brain growth. There's a reason why hikers can focus so inherently on an issue that arises, and that same focus is seen when clearing a complex part of a trial. Hyperfocus, as well as a keen sense of clear intuition, are both positive mental benefits one can derive from hiking.