The Medical Benefits of Hiking

The Medical Benefits of Hiking Hiking is one of the best exercises you can do for your health. Technically hiking is defined as prolonged walking or climbing over flat or rugged terrain. Hiking typically details walking for extended periods of time or long distances and is undertaken for the benefit of health and wellness and/or weight-loss. Some of the most fit people you will encounter will be outdoorsmen with a love of hiking. In addition to the positive physical attributes that come from hiking, there is also a strong component of mental wellness that can also be achieved through hiking.

Achieving Maximum Health Benefits From Hiking

For people who are new to hiking, it’s a good idea to start slow. Physical stabilizing devices and the proper attire are very important when planning your outing. People that work in establishments that outfit hikers with their required gear, are often outdoorsman themselves, and as such are able to provide highly educated direction as to what is needed for a pleasurable hiking experience. Ask for expert advice before purchasing your hiking equipment. Being properly outfitted can make a huge difference in your level of hiking enjoyment. Start out on even terrain, that is manageable based on your level of physical fitness. Once you have mastered extended even terrain hiking, transition to a slightly more hilly terrain. If you're new to hiking, it's highly recommended that you utilize some type of stabilizing device to avoid falls. A stabilizing device for hiking not only helps you maintain balance but also allows a hiker of any level of ability to propel themselves foreword with a more natural stride. The additional upper body workout, that comes from using a stabilizing device or walking stick, increases the cardio workout that is achievable through the use of upper body muscles. Though it is not advisable that beginners start out on extremely hilly terrain, the hillier the better when it comes to achieving maximum health benefits from hiking. The most important factor in achieving maximum health benefits from hiking is to know yourself and your physical abilities. Hiking is a sport that can be continued over the entirety of one's life so it is important not to burn out by trying to do too much too soon.

Physical And Emotional Benefits of Hiking

Hiking is good both for the mind and body. Additionally, you get to enjoy fresh air, breathtaking views, and the smells and sounds of nature. Hiking is an excellent cardio  and weight-bearing workout and may provide numerous health benefits, including:
•    Lowering the risk of developing heart disease
•    Strengthening core muscles
•    Improving balance
•    Improving blood sugar
•    Improving blood pressure
•    Improving or maintaining bone density
•    Building strength and muscle bulk in the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, as well as keeping the lower extremity joints flexible
•    Weight management
•    Improved mood, with subsequent decreased anxiety and stress
•    Lowering levels of triglycerides and cholesterol
•    Lowering the risk of premature deaths (1)

How Does a Hiking Stick Offer Balance and Stability to a Hiker?

Having the proper equipment is paramount to having a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Aside from a high-quality pair of hiking boots, nothing is more important than a stabilizing device, often referred to as a hiking stick. A hiking stick offers balance and stability to a hiker through the even distribution of pressure to the legs and arms. Though the spine and lower extremity joints are responsible for the majority of the work while hiking, an unexpected amount of downward pressure also gets transferred to the arms. With proper usage of a hiking stick, the pressure transmitted to the arms can be reduced by upwards of 20 pounds per single step. Fatigue, that is linked to unevenly distributed forces on the musculoskeletal system, can be greatly reduced through the use of a walking device. The hiking stick also facilitates a gait that is upright, which in turn helps to prevent back pain while hiking.

How Does The Use of a Hiking Stick Increase My Safety?

Hiking sticks have become essential for mountaineering and hiking. Some of the safety factors that come along with using hiking sticks include:
•    Assistance in maintaining and establishing a rhythm that is consistent. This helps in increasing speed, as well as gaining more momentum while hiking.
•    Decreasing the impact on the feet, ankles, knees and legs, especially if going downhill. A study that was carried out in 1999 in The Journal of Sports Medicine showed that hiking sticks may reduce compressive force exerted on the knees by as much as 25%.
•    The use of a hiking stick for defense against any attacks from wild animals, such as bears and snakes. The action of swinging the hiking stick over your head will make you to appear bigger, and in turn may scare the wild animal away.
•    Using a hiking stick to push away backcountry nuisances, such as deflecting thorny trees that could otherwise be a health hazard to you.
•    Hiking sticks offer contact at an extra 2 points thereby increasing traction significantly when walking on surfaces that are slippery or unstable. With hiking being a year-round sport and enjoyable to all cultures, stability in rainy, snowy and icy conditions is paramount.
•    Hiking sticks enable the arms to assist in upward and foreword propulsion. Whether walking up a steep hill or simply walking on flat ground, a hiking stick assists in maintaining balance which minimizes the chance of tripping.
•    The very nature of hiking subjects one to difficult terrain. Hiking sticks help in maintaining balance when crossing bridges that are slippery or slightly built. Maintaining balance helps to achieve a quicker speed, which translates to increasing health benefits. (2)

The Downside of Using a Hiking Stick

Hiking sticks may not be the perfect solution for every hiking scenario. Some critics have stated that in certain terrains, hiking sticks can actually be safety hazards. A hiking stick may break, if excess force is exerted on it or if the stick is used incorrectly. This may lead to broken wrists, when pressure is exerted on a hiking stick at an incorrect angle. An education, as to the proper mechanism of usage of a hiking device, can significantly minimize any downside or potential risk.
 

On What Type Of Terrains Can Hiking Sticks Be Used?

Generally, the use of hiking sticks on long and difficult tours is recommended. While descending a hill on your hike, a hiking stick can take the pressure off your joints. Joint strain can often be minimized in instances where you are crossing a river or stream. It is recommended however, that shorter and/or less rugged terrain be undertaken occasionally without the use of a stability device. Hiking less treacherous terrain, without the use of a hiking stick, can help build personal balance, as well as the enjoyment of freedom of movement.(3)

Safety Tips When Hiking

•    Never go hiking alone. Hiking alone isn’t a good idea, specifically if you are hiking on remote or unfamiliar trails. A companion may be in a position to offer assistance in the event of an unexpected injury. This rule applies to even the most seasoned hikers.
•    Ensure that you have a clear and concise understanding of the trail you will be hiking.
•    Take the time to thoroughly review the map and always follow marked trails and paths.
•    Check the weather forecast to ensure you're dressed in weather–appropriate attire.
•    Appropriate hiking gear is very important. This specifically includes shoes and the use of a stability device.
•    Carry plenty of water and electrolyte-replenishing fluids when going hiking.
•    When hiking with children and teenagers always keep them in eyesight.
•    Carry a fully stocked first aid kit and ensure that you know how to use it.

Finding Appropriate Hiking Sticks

When it comes to choosing the correct stability device, there are several factors that need to be considered:
•    Material of the Hiking stick
Aluminum and Carbon are the two materials that are most prevalent in the construction of hiking sticks. Carbon hiking sticks are much lighter and are preferred particularly for long hikes. Additionally, carbon is friendlier to the wrist since it absorbs vibration which can occur when the hiking stick makes contact with the ground. The downside of the carbon hiking stick is that it breaks easily. Aluminum sticks are cost-effective, stable and have less chance of breaking, though they are a bit heavier.
•    Length
Always ask for expert advice to be sure that the hiking stick you are purchasing is the correct length for your height.
•    Grips and Shock Absorption
The shock absorbing ability of hiking sticks can be very important if you are hiking on hard terrains. A stability device, suitable for dense terrain, ensures that the weight of the body is cushioned, thereby making the hiking experience gentler on the shoulders, elbows and wrists. (4)
The hiking stick is as important as waterproof clothing, compact rucksack and sturdy boots. Finding the perfect hiking stick that can guarantee your comfort and safety as you hike can be a tricky but worthwhile undertaking.

Conclusion

Hiking is an aerobic exercise that gets the muscles moving and heart pumping. Hiking has many health benefits associated with it, as a form of exercise. Making use of an appropriate hiking stick can help you to enjoy maximum health benefits linked to hiking. Do your research, concerning the hiking route that you plan to take, to be sure you have the appropriate gear and stability device at your disposal. Hiking is a lifelong sport that can be enjoyed into old age. The ability to spend time with friends and family of all ages, enjoy the outdoors, and stay in shape, makes hiking the perfect aerobic exercise.(5)

References


1. WebMD.  How hiking is good for body and mind. Accessed September. 15, 2013.

2. Wikipedia. Hiking. Accessed October. 18, 2014

3. Outdoor Gear Lab. Ten reasons for trekking poles. Accessed July. 29, 2014

4. Tatonka. Uphill and downhill a safe aid? The proper use of hiking sticks. Accessed November. 21, 2013

5. Livestrong. What are the benefits and disadvantages of hiking? Accessed October. 21, 2013