An introduction to the health benefits of hiking

How to get fit and healthy in the great outdoors

Getting fit and healthy doesn't always mean long hours spent in the gym. Hiking is a great way of keeping fit, by developing your cardiovascular system and burning off fat and calories. It is also a social and scenic activity that can boost your self-confidence and feelings of well-being.

Hiking is open to everyone, regardless of age or financial status. Here's the guide to why hiking is good for the body and mind.

What exactly is hiking?

Hiking is probably best described as any walking activity that is ‘off-road’ and in rural areas. Once you leave the road and head off into the hills, paths can be very well made and easy to follow or you can navigate cross-country following no discernible path at all.

How can you improve your health and fitness through hiking?

There are numerous health and fitness benefits to hiking. The most obvious benefits are improving your cardiovascular fitness levels as well as reducing body fat through aerobic exercise. Some other less obvious or intangible benefits include personal confidence and character building, as well as a way of releasing all that stress and tension after a long, hard week in the office!

Why would anyone want to go hiking?

Different people are drawn to different activities for many reasons so what would draw someone to go hill walking? One obvious reason to try hill walking is that it offers a fantastic way of keeping fit without the confines of a gym or swimming pool. Many people would much prefer some fresh air, open spaces and stunning scenery than pounding away on a running machine for a few hours! Other reasons can include achieving a personal challenge or goal, or simply trying something new. One of the great things about hiking is that almost anyone can give it a go!

How long do you go hiking for?

Another great thing about hiking is that it can be for as long or short a duration as you like, whether you decide to go for a one hour walk or a four week trek is up to you! This means that you can build up from easy, moderate routes when you start and as your fitness, navigation skills and confidence improve, you can increase the length and severity of your routes.

What does it feel like to go hiking?

The sense of freedom you get when you are out hiking and enjoying stunning views is immense. It is up to you when planning your route as to how easy or challenging the terrain will be and consequently how tired (but fit) you will become. The worst part of hiking (like many active pursuits) is getting started! Motivating yourself to get out of bed or give up your weekend can be tough but the feelings you get when hiking will soon get you coming back for more … you might tire or ache a little during a walk but those feelings are far outweighed by the feelings of achievement afterwards that will stay with you for days, weeks and sometimes even years! When you are walking with stunning scenery and you can feel your body getting fitter, there is an undeniable feeling of well-being and truly feeling alive … One of the best things about hiking is that almost anyone can have a go regardless of age, fitness level or financial status. The only barrier to having a go will be you!

Do I have to go on a course?

No one should ever venture out to the hills without a basic understanding of map reading and navigation. If you have friends who can teach you then that is great, but the time and money invested in a course will be well spent. Courses are very reasonably priced and you should consider reserving a place with a reputable organization offering expert advice.

Is there any kind of governing body for hiking?

There is no real governing body for hiking as much of the British Isles is made up of open access land, free for everyone to enjoy without regulation, the amount of which is currently being further increased. While no official governing body exists to oversee hiking, it is well worth taking your time to familiarize yourself with the Country Code and codes of practice when crossing farmers land.

  • Leave gates and property as you find them.
  • Protect plants and animals and take your litter home.
  • Keep dogs under close control.
  • Consider other people.

In particular, be aware that some public rights of way may be closed at certain times of year, for example during lambing season. A little effort will go a long way and help keep open access land available for everybody to enjoy! The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) also exists to represent the interests and freedoms of mountaineers and hikers. Visit the BMC's website for more information.

Although there is not a specific governing body for hiking, many towns have their own walking clubs and it shouldn’t be hard to find out details either via the internet or at your local outdoor retailer.

When walking, remember the following …

‘Take nothing but photographs,
kill nothing but time,
leave nothing but footprints’

There are no real defined ‘types’ of hiking, except those set by yourself. It is up to you if you want to go for a gentle stroll, easy walk, moderate walk, hill scramble or mountain challenge. The severity of your walk will also be affected if you are carrying a small day sack or large expedition pack for a multi day walk.

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