There are plenty of reasons to head out on a hiking trip or mountaineering expedition.
Both outdoor sports get you right into the heart of the natural world – enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of nature and providing you with the chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
They are also both great social activities. Head on a private expedition with some friends or family to reconnect or join a group tour and make some new friends. Regardless of the option, you’re almost certain to create memories that last a lifetime.
Keep reading: A Beginner's Guide to Mountaineering
However, one of the top reasons to take up or continue your hiking and climbing passion is for the myriad physical and mental health benefits that both provide.
Hiking and, especially, mountaineering are strenuous physical activities. In order to enjoy and excel at them, you will need to get into good physical condition and maintain it.
The reward for doing so, however, is immense. Not only will you get out into the wilderness and visit places to which cars, cities and nature documentaries simply cannot bring you, but you will also reap the numerous health benefits associated with getting there.
Below we’ve listed just a few of the top health benefits associated with mountaineering and hiking for your consideration.
Establish Healthy Routines
Prior to heading out on any serious mountain climbing or hiking expedition, most would-be climbers and walkers will need to do some physical training in order to prepare.
Most guides recommend that participants spend at least three months getting ready for their trip, undertaking a combination of flexibility, cardiovascular and strength training regimes.
These may include some combination of heading out on biweekly runs, going to the gym three or four times each week and making time to do some yoga in the morning or evening. Regardless of the exercises you choose to undertake, you will likely fall into some sort of routine over the course of your training period.
After making it up to that mountain summit or completing your hike or trek, you will probably not find it too difficult to stick with the same fitness routine.
Not only will this keep you in shape, it will keep you perennially prepared for any other mountaineering or hiking opportunities that come your way.
Lower your risk of heart disease
Heart disease is caused when too much plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, restricting the ability of blood to flow to the heart. The malady is among the leading causes of death worldwide, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Hiking and mountain climbing are among the many ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. The physical act of walking and climbing increases the amount of high-density lipoprotein in your blood. Known as good cholesterol, HDL helps your body collect bad cholesterol – LDL – and transport it to the liver to be removed.
By increasing your heart rate as you hike or climb, the two sports simultaneously help to lower your triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. When their levels become too high, they can contribute to the buildup of plaque in your arteries.
Increase bone density
Hiking and mountain climbing are weight bearing exercises and involve plyometric movements, both of which contribute to increasing bone density and slowing the rate of calcium loss.
Both types of outdoor sports require you to move your body uphill against gravity. Due to the rate and frequency of muscle strain caused by climbing or hiking uphill, the bones become increasingly dense and more resistant to breaking.
The magnitude of the muscle strain during the exercise also contributes to increasing bone density. Climbing and hiking with a moderately heavy pack adds to the magnitude of the strain exerted in the same way that weight lifting does.
Additionally, both outdoor sports strengthen the muscles in your legs and back, which in turn help to hold your bones in place. Climbing and hiking with the correct posture can help to prevent or reverse the impacts of osteoporosis, a disease in which bone mass deteriorates over time, as well as arthritis.
According to experts, simply hiking for 150 minutes each week also helps to keep your joints flexible, which prevents the onset and slows the spread of arthritis.
Improve mental health
Along with improving various aspects of your physical health, hiking and mountain climbing are also great ways to improve your mental health.
Studies have shown that participating in group physical activities in nature decrease negative and obsessive thoughts about the self, which are attributed to depression and anxiety.
Exercising in nature is also a great way to increase endorphins, which stimulate receptors associated with pleasure in the brain, making you feel good and releasing energy that may have been contributing to the build-up of anxiety.
Mountain climbing, in particular, requires you to focus on achieving a goal as a member of a team. Concentrating on constructive activities, such as making it up a cliff face or traversing a glacier to reach a mountain summit, improves self-esteem and your sense of self-worth.
It also forces your brain to solve problems and improves mental agility, all of which is associated with healthier brain function.
Work on your balance
Hiking and mountain climbing are both full body sports. Along with improving your cardiovascular endurance and exercising your upper and lower body, they are also great for improving your balance.
Walking and climbing over uneven surfaces engage your core muscles in a way that few other types of exercises can. The type of lateral motion achieved while hiking or climbing will better hone abdominal, leg and back muscles that all contribute to balance but are rarely worked out during daily activity.
Habitually, hiking and climbing can also improve your foot-eye coordination and judgement. Both sports allow you to practice traversing uneven surfaces, learning your limitations and improving upon them.
Take advantage of fresh air
One of the best parts of any hiking or mountain climbing trip is heading out into the wilderness and getting to breathe the fresh air.
According to the World Health Organization, air pollution contributes to lung cancer, acute lower respiratory infections, stroke and heart disease.
All the aforementioned health benefits provided by hiking and climbing are amplified when unpolluted air is filling your lungs and oxygenating your blood.
For people who suffer from asthma and allergies, getting fresh air helps to alleviate these respiratory problems and ease the difficulty of breathing.
Additionally, the most common scent one encounters while hiking is pine, which studies have shown reduces stress, depression and hostility levels after prolonged exposure.
Lose weight more efficiently
While any type of exercise, when done correctly, will contribute to weight loss, hiking and climbing at high altitude are especially effective ways in which to do so.
Studies have shown that spending as little as one week at higher elevations help individuals to lose weight. It is no coincidence that mountain communities tend to have far lower levels of obesity than communities as sea level.
This is because spending prolonged times at higher elevations speed up the body’s metabolism, processing proteins, carbohydrates and fats more quickly, while also reducing appetite.
However, this means you need to be smart when exercising at altitude. Be sure to acclimate properly before heading to altitudes in excess of 2,000 metres (6,500 feet). Also make sure you are eating properly, including consuming “good” carbohydrates and plenty of protein.
Along with helping to lose weight, hiking and climbing on a consistent basis also help to keep the weight off once it has been lost. Hikers and climbers can burn anywhere from 60 to 300 calories per kilometre (100 and 500 calories per mile).
Heading out to hike or climb once per week will help you shed unwanted weight and keep it off as well, more effectively than diet alone.
Assist in the recovery from cancer
While hiking and mountain climbing will not cure cancer, some research indicates that they may provide some health benefits that help mitigate the recurrence of or prevent cancer from returning.
Research published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer had lower rates of oxidative stress – which is believed to play a role in the onset, progression and recurrence of cancer – after heading out on long-distance hikes.
The study found these hikes may improve the antioxidative capacity in the blood of oncology patients.
It is also well-established that regular exercise helps to improve the prognosis of recovering cancer patients.
Get out there and see the results for yourself!
So what are you waiting for? Begin comparing trips and planning your next hiking and/or mountaineering expedition right here on Expedreview!
Take a healthy and fulfilling vacation while making memories that last a lifetime.