Hiking for beginners: the benefits

Walking is one of the most popular hobbies in the world. It’s Britain’s most popular outdoor activity by far, where nearly a quarter of all adults in the UK go for at least one recreational walk every month.

Right now, while the UK lives under the lockdown of the Coronavirus pandemic, walking is one of the few types of exercise still permitted by the UK Government and thousands of us are walking on a daily basis – many of whom may not have ever done it as a form of exercise before.*

If you get a taste for it, you might even want to continue after the lockdown is lifted. Hiking is a great way to up your walking game. Hiking is simply a long walk, often away from urban areas across countryside or coastal terrain. That’s why it’s the biggest outdoor pursuit in North Wales; the region has some of the best landscapes and coastline – and the best trails – in the UK, if not beyond.

Currently, your walk probably won’t extend further than a couple of miles. You’ll wear trainers or sensible shoes and it will likely be along pavements, surfaced roads or well-laid paths. Here, hiking differs again. On a hike, you’ll come across grassy paths that are sometimes hard to follow. You may find the ground very rocky. After rain, many trails can become muddy in places, or even waterlogged. Hiking presents a new set of challenges.

  • * Please note: while we are living under lockdown the official advice is to STAY AT HOME. You are permitted to leave your home for essential reasons only. These include for shopping and medical appointments, and to take daily exercise in your neighbourhood. Do NOT travel to exercise, the mountains and forests of North Wales will still be here when it’s all over.

So why do it? And how do you get started?

In this series of articles we dive deep into the hobby of hiking. Learn how to start walking longer trails, what levels of fitness you’ll need, and what clothing or equipment you should have. Discover the health benefits and the things you might encounter on your adventures. We’ll provide a list of “starter hikes” in North Wales, perfect trails to get you into the wonderful world of hiking.

You might need a little motivation before you set off on your first hike. In this article we look at the health benefits of hiking. Here are 12 reasons why you should get out there!

12 health benefits of hiking

In one wonderful day of hiking you will enjoy all these health benefits:

  1. 1. Improved overall wellbeing: being outside and getting exercise gives you fresh air, helps you lose weight, and reduces stress. Imagine drawing on these benefits not just for 30 minutes but for a few hours or more

2. Reduced risk of heart disease: You can reduce high blood pressure and improve cholesterol through regular exercise – walking is shown to raise high-density lipoprotein, a good cholesterol

3. Control Type 2 diabetes: Hiking is a great way to control the amount of insulin a diabetic needs, helping muscles absorb blood sugar. Note, it’s not a permanent fix

4. Combat fatigue: Hectic lives leave us feeling drained, but it’s not a good tiredness. Like any exercise, hiking will give you an energy boost (even a 15-minute walk is shown to do this). Yes, you will feel physically tired at the end, but over time you feel less fatigued more generally

5. Increased bone density: Working your joints will help strengthen them, while being outdoors will give you healthy doses of bone-building Vitamin D from the sun

6. Increased cardio fitness: Again, like any regular exercise, the more you do, the easier it becomes. If walking up a hill leaves you out of breath now, getting into hiking will make that hill easier to climb as times goes on

7. Tackle osteoporosis and arthritis: moving improves circulation, pushing oxygen through the joints and helping to remove inflammation

8. Control your weight: One of the most obvious (and desirable!) benefits, just one hour of hiking can help you burn off 500 calories

9. Reduced anxiety and stress: Another big benefit, hiking will release natural endorphins that will help lift your mood. Your surroundings, too, will often inspire and lift your spirits – it’s why people head for the sea and mountains

10. Get a better night’s sleep: Tiredness from exercise and a cleansing of the mind during your hike will help you get some of the best nights’ sleep you’ve ever had!

11. Feel happier and better about yourself: Research has shown that giving yourself plenty of ‘me time’ and taking a break from technology improves creative reasoning by 50%, so your mind is refreshed as well as your body

12. Improve bonds with friends and family: Hiking with family and friends is a great way to spend time together. You are challenged yet work together; plus, it’s something to look forward to!

There is another benefit to hiking that is harder to define, and not everyone may get it.

The Welsh have a word for which there is no direct English equivalent: Hiraeth. It loosely describes a kind of homesickness. People claim it as meaning the language of the soul, a call from your inner self. Many who take up hiking gain a sense of belonging from being in the hills, or by the sea. You may not know if this will happen to you until you get out there and immerse yourself. But if it calls to you, as it does many who take up hiking, there’s a huge benefit to be had in feeling that you have discovered your ‘calling’.

In the next article, we’ll consider what levels of fitness you need to take up hiking, and what you can do to condition yourself before you embark on your first adventure.