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Beavertail cacti bloom in Kanab Creek, Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Mitch Stevens.

Beavertail cacti bloom in Kanab Creek, Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Mitch Stevens.

In the spirit of the holiday season — and getting into shape after indulging in all those holiday parties — I’m running a guest post from my fellow Tucson, Arizona, resident Mitch Stevens, founder of Southwest Discoveries.

Mitch or one of his trained guides at Southwest Discoveries will take you on a personalized hiking tour in the Tucson region or around Arizona, including the Grand Canyon and Sonoran Desert.  His market is primarily baby boomers and multi-generational hiking groups, which is how Mitch and I originally connected.

Appropriately, Mitch writes about the benefits of going hiking (which I can now do in the winter, having recently relocated from upstate New York to sunny Tucson — following in the footsteps, as it were, of countless other baby boomers heading south and west).

So I’ll hand the mic over to Mitch to see if he can inspire you to dust off and lace up your hiking boots, grab a hiking pole or two if you’re so inclined, and head off onto a trail near or far.

By Mitch Stevens

If you are finding it difficult to get motivated to exercise and sweating at the gym seems less than appealing, then hiking is your solution. People who hike on a regular basis enjoy better overall health, considerably less stress, and are more energetic.

Here are 15 benefits of hiking you can start enjoying today — and reap the rewards!

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo by Ed Doran.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo by Ed Doran.

1. Improve Your Overall Health and Get Fit

When you maintain a regular hiking program you’ll not only feel great when you hit the trail but you’ll enjoy optimal fitness. The better your condition, the more you’ll enjoy the hiking experience. Even if you’re not an avid hiker, you’ll still reap health benefits.

2. Decrease Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Recent studies show that walking or hiking for an hour a day can cut a person’s risk of stroke in half. Walking conditions the heart and will help you live longer. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, including hiking, is safe for most people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Consistent aerobic exercise, including hiking, helps increase your HDL levels (the good cholesterol), and lowers your triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels (the harmful components), reducing your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Take a hike to help keep your cardiovascular system healthy.

3. Be Happy!

Hikers are happier. A walk through a dramatic landscape not only calms you but improves your spirits and can help alleviate severe depression. Being in the grandeur of nature — free from the pressures of our everyday lives and technology — works wonders for stress relief.

4. Prevent Diabetes

Hiking benefits include reducing your risk of diabetes. Hiking works your muscles, which transfers glucose from your bloodstream for energy. (But if you already have diabetes, it is crucial that you talk to your doctor first — your practitioner may need to adjust your diabetes medications.)

Havasu Canyon, photo by Mitch Stevens

Havasu Canyon, photo by Mitch Stevens

5. Increase Your Energy Level

Aerobic activities, such as hiking, provide oxygen to your muscles and other body tissues. This extra fuel helps boost your muscles and lungs and increases your alertness, as well as your energy and endurance levels.

6 . Lose Weight

One of the many health benefits of trekking includes weight management — it’s one of the best methods to burn calories and lose unwanted pounds. By following a consistent and enjoyable hiking program, you will keep your weight under control.

Numerous studies have shown that hiking can burn more than 400 calories per hour. It is best to start slowly and work up your hiking duration to approximately 45 minutes daily at a pace of 2.5 miles an hour.

7. Increase Your Bone Density

Strong bones are essential to your overall health. Hiking consistently will decrease your chances of developing osteoporosis and arthritis. If you have arthritis, studies have shown that two and a half hours of hiking per week will maintain flexibility in your joints and decrease joint stiffness.

8. Lower Your Cancer Risk

Like any regular exercise, benefits include lowering your cancer risk. Hiking helps prevent and fight certain cancers such as breast and colon cancer. Your risk of developing lung and other forms of cancer will decrease.

9. Relief from Back Pain

Sitting in front of a computer too long can cause back pain. People who walk report significant decreases in back pain. Hiking puts much less stress on your body than running or aerobics and helps build core body strength.

10. Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Photo by Mitch Stevens.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Photo by Mitch Stevens.

Vitamin D is a critical nutrient needed to keep your muscles and bones strong and to promote overall good health. Although some vitamin D is available in foods, one of the best sources is the sun. So get out there and take a hike for better health.

11. Hiking is good for your brain

According to many studies, hiking outdoors is great for the brain. In a recent experiment, a group of middle-aged people were asked to take three 40-minute walks a week for a year. At the end of the 12-month period, MRI scans verified that their hippocampus grew an average of 2 percent. Typically, as people age, their hippocampus becomes smaller, leading to memory loss.

Preventing such shrinkage could improve a person’s memory for years. Moreover, there have been many other recent reports regarding how being in the outdoors reaps huge benefits. Other conditions alleviated include stress, depression, anger and aggressiveness. In fact, our mental health in general is significantly improved by being in a natural environment.

12. Expand Your Mind, Visit New Places

Hiking is a great excuse for visiting new places, creating excitement, avoiding boredom and opening new synapses’ in the brain. Instead of planning an ordinary vacation, take a hike! Adventure trips can encompass snow-capped mountains, spectacular canyons, fascinating deserts and verdant forests. U.S. national parks and wilderness areas offer thousands of trails across millions of acres of public land.

13. Tones Your Muscles

Since hiking can include steep inclines, it is perfect for challenging your body and for toning your muscles. With brisk movements and a steady pace, you can get a full body workout. Remember to stretch before and after a vigorous hike, so that your hamstrings, glutes and quads are toned. The vigorous stretching of yoga can be very beneficial for hikers.

Moon over Fishtail Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Mitch Stevens.

Moon over Fishtail Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Mitch Stevens.

14. Hiking Slows Aging

Hiking is not only fun, it helps slow the aging process. In addition to bringing clarity to the mind and vibrancy to the soul, hiking will help reduce your mortality risk.

Research indicates that what was once accepted as a foregone conclusion — that aging alone will seriously lessen your physical and mental capabilities — is not true. An article in the American Journal of Public Heath revealed results of a study regarding mortality risk and moderate exercise such as hiking. The study tested two groups of middle-aged men, one active and one sedentary, during a 23-year time period. The conclusion: the inactive group lost 41 percent of their aerobic ability, while the exercisers lost only 13 percent.

The takeaway here is that aging doesn’t severely diminish our ability to be healthy and active. But leading a sedentary lifestyle will. Yet another excuse to hit the trails!

15. Develop Healthy Lifetime Habits

Another compelling reason to hike is a much improved quality of life. Each time you hike, breathe the outside air, exert and challenge yourself but stay within your capabilities, you will come away feeling better than you did. Your body and mind will feel healthier and your stress level will drop off. Because of this great feeling, you’ll want to hike again. The sport may even become addictive!

As you notice improvements in your mind and body, you may adopt other healthy habits such as eating healthy foods or practicing meditation.

So get started on your hiking plan today and kick start your journey to longevity!

For an in-depth look at even more reasons to exercise, see 93 Research Proven Benefits of Exercise from Healthgrinder.com .

Travel Tip of the Day: Use hiking poles when out on the trail.  Not only do they reduce wear and tear on your joints, but digging into the ground and propelling yourself forward pushes your upper body muscles to work harder and gives you a better cardio workout. You’ll lose more weight and reap substantial health benefits as well, such as a reduced risk of heart disease. Poles also reduce the risk of falling, whether hiking up or downhill. (Thanks to Mitch Stevens for this tip.)

 

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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