Hiking’s Effects On Disease States


It’s commonly accepted that regular physical activity is known to help sustain a healthy body and mind, as well as improve overall quality of life. Why then, do only 15% of Americans get sufficient exercise? The answer may lie in the fact that people don’t fully understand what constitutes exercise. An hour long session running on a treadmill or lifting heavy weights in a gym isn’t necessarily required to gain the overall benefits of exercise. It’s no surprise that people don’t find this high intensity version of exercise attractive. The best method of incorporating exercise into your lifestyle is finding something that doesn’t feel like exercise. Playing frisbee in the park with your friends, running after your playful toddler, or throwing snowballs during a winter storm all constitute as exercise. The simple act of walking, can significantly benefit your health and aid in maintaining a strong cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal system. The key is that you keep moving.

Over one third of Americans are considered overweight or obese. This may stem from the poor quality of nutrition made available to the public, but more than likely speaks to a general lack of motivation to make exercise an important part of daily life. A different perspective on exercise - the understanding that exercise doesn’t have to be uncomfortable to be effective - could make a significant difference in how people approach exercise. High intensity physical activity, day in and day out, is an effective way to achieve and maintain fitness, but it’s not the only way.

Take hiking for example. When people hear the word ‘hike’, an image of a highly fit outdoorsman is likely to pop into their head. That outdoorsman is trecking high and low, through wet, rocky and treacherous terrain. In reality, the majority of people that hike do so within the confines of their neighborhood or nearby parks. Hiking doesn’t have to include difficult or uneven services. It doesn't have to include rainy or snowy days. It can be done anywhere there is a place to walk.

A regularly scheduled, brisk paced walk will ultimately grant results in the long (and short) run. A moderately paced walk of 30 minutes to an hour, 3 or 4 days out of the week is proven to not only keep the extra pounds off, but to improve the overall quality of your health.(1) Thousands of Americans fall victim to heart disease each day, and the numbers are growing, due to the level of inactivity. A regular walking routine is proven to significantly reduce the chances of heart problems.(2) This holds a striking contrast to people who don’t maintain daily physical activity, which are twice as likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease.

Heart Disease


When dealing with conditions of the heart, high levels of cholesterol can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Keeping it at bay is important for anyone who is looking to lead a healthy life, and there are countless ways to stay on top of your exercise routine without over-exerting to the point of burn-out.

Hiking is known to reduce cholesterol levels, helping to remove the fatty substance from the artery walls by increasing the levels of high-density lipoprotein. By stabilizing the cholesterol, the risk of heart disease is significantly reduced, thereby reinforcing the benefits of ‘good’ cholesterol that a regular walk can provide.

Millions of Americans deal with Hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure.(3) Although Western medicine includes pharmaceuticals as a first line treatment modality, there are also alternative adjuncts. Research has proven that regular physical activity lowers plasma norepinephrine, which goes hand in hand with blood pressure levels. Walking is a low-intensity, highly beneficial way to combat hypertension in the blood vessels.(4)

In order to maintain a healthy heart, one needs to make the effort to incorporate exercise into their daily life. Activity does not have to exceed your comfort zone, and can be altered to fit the specific needs and limits of any one person. A healthy heart is an opportunity for anyone who is willing to go out for a brisk walk or hike, a few times a week. Those who do so will be guaranteed to feel the positive results.

The benefits that walking provides are not limited to your heart. With transportation being the most damaging source of air pollution on the planet, it’s logical to believe that the hours we spend driving cars each week negatively affect our lungs as well as the environment. Air pollution is a direct contributor to lung cancer, asthma, and respiratory tract infections.(5)

Respiratory Disease


If short-distance motor vehicle trips were to be replaced by walking, imagine the difference in air quality! Short trips are said to be the most damaging to the atmosphere, and the least fuel efficient. Many believe this is due to the higher incidence of the car idling while sitting in traffic and at stop lights. It goes without saying that the amount of sickness and disease related to poor air quality would decrease dramatically if people decided to get where they needed to on foot.

Diabetes


Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in America today, plaguing almost 6% of the population. The most startling component to the statistic is that over 25% do not know they have diabetes.(6) People with Type 2 Diabetes are normally not able to produce an adequate level of insulin, which can lead to major health issues including kidney failure, stroke, nerve damage, heart disease and blindness. Those with Type 1 Diabetes are unable to produce any insulin at all. Diabetes alters the way that the body breaks down glucose, and depletes the energy that it is intended to provide.

By taking a regular walk, the body will require reduced amounts of insulin. The exercise will help to reduce the degenerative effects of diabetes, and in some cases, reverse them entirely. Although there are medications for the condition, physical activity, such as hiking, is proven to be a reversal and improvement method for those diagnosed.

Aging


Recent studies have shown that there is a direct link between the aging process and physical activity.(7) It is commonly assumed that the rapidity at which people age is caused by a decline in activity over the years, when it is in fact the opposite. The more regularly a person goes out to get exercise, the slower they will age.

If slowing the aging process is a priority - and why wouldn't it be - the simple activity of taking a walk on a regular basis is a great place to start. Along with the physical health benefits that come with walking and hiking, the social attributes of a younger, livelier life should be an incentive to get started on a regular exercise routine.

Osteoporosis


Osteoporosis causes deteriorated bone density, which most greatly effects aging women. The condition makes the bones more susceptible to breakage, and can cause difficulty in movement as well. A regular weight bearing routine, such as walking or hiking, is known to increase bone density and help reverse the damaging effects of the disease.(8)

Bone structure can be strengthened by a basic exercise routine that enhances regular health, increasing the immune system’s natural healing pattern. The weight-bearing nature of walking serves to enhance the breakdown and rebuilding of bone typically seen with osteoporosis.

Depression


Walking every day is also known to enhance the release of endorphins, which are a source of positive energy and enhance the mood. People suffering from depression often struggle to complete basic daily functions. A long walk makes it possible for them to feel a sense of accomplishment.

After a 30 minute walk, the symptoms of people with disorders, such as anxiety, lessened considerably. The constant pace of walking allows for the consistent release of adrenaline, thereby providing a general and overall calming effect. This affirms the idea that walking benefits physical, as well as mental health.

Conclusion


A hike can be a positive source of energy and well-being in a person’s life - especially those looking to gain improved health naturally. Walking and hiking will provide the exertion that a body needs to remain heart and lung healthy, in addition to introducing a positive outlook through improved mental strength.

Hiking could be the ultimate solution to inspiring people to stay fit. It's easy, it can be done anywhere and it's modifiable for people of all ages and physical abilities. Go take a hike!

References:


(1) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000385.htm

(2) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20625280

(3) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/highbloodpressure.html

(4) http://www.fnlm.org/pdfs/MedlinePlus/MLP_2014_Winter.pdf

(5) https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-outdoor-air-pollution-causes-cancer.html

(6) http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0610-diabetes-report.html

(7) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/exerciseforseniors.html

(8) http://nof.org/exercise


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