Hiking is a great way to get exercise and connect with nature, others, and ourselves. A whole food, plant-based diet provides an excellent foundation for exercise as eating nutrient-rich foods creates energy and you will find yourself more ready to workout and accomplish fitness goals. With energy, it is possible to do more in a day including a challenging workout. We often think we lack motivation around exercise, but what really derails our workouts is feeling tired and exhausted from just our day-to-day activities. A plant-based diet offers plenty of natural fuel to do more.
Why hiking? Hiking is fun and offers something for everyone. It can be as simple as taking a walk outside, or contain greater challenges such as steep inclines, obstacles, or a change in elevation. The fresh air cleanses the mind and body. In the peacefulness of nature, you can check in with yourself and see where you are in your health journey. By being aware of your body's response to exercise, you become more in tune with your health. Through hiking, we learn to appreciate the beauty of nature, and we become more aware of our role in taking care of the earth.
Below I'll discuss these benefits further and explain how hiking has helped me.
There are hundreds of medical studies that prove that exercise is important to good health with notable benefits such as lowering the risk of chronic illness, strengthening bones and muscles, and burning calories, and the most innate exercise is walking. Trails range from the very challenging to more leisurely uninterrupted surfaces. As you seek out new and different trails, you can increase the intensity of your workout naturally, or simply challenge yourself to go farther each time.
When I worked out at a traditional gym, I was always checking the clock, counting reps in my head, or using TV or music to distract me. When I am hiking, I am in the present moment. I am not dreading my workout or anticipating the end. I look at my surroundings, make new discoveries, admire natural beauty, and feel simple and whole. Each workout is different. Not knowing what is next on the trail keeps me agile and alert.
Connecting to Nature
When I started regularly hiking last summer, something miraculous happened during the fall. Typically when we "fall back" for daylight savings, I find myself grumpy, sleepy, and disconnected to my body. But this fall I felt revitalized, full of energy, and would wake naturally with the sun. My yoga teacher suggested that it was because I was in tune with nature and ready for the change in season.
Ayurveda, which is an ancient practice of healing, urges one to spend time in nature daily. Nature allows us to shift our attention from ourselves and our stressful lives and recognize that we are part of a larger picture. It ignites our senses and engages us on a different level.
Consuming a plant-based diet has made me very aware of how food choice affects the environment. Factory farming has devastating affects on animals and the planet. Meat production is more destructive to the climate than all types of transportation combined. Food choice is important and the greater you connect with nature, the more you will fully understand the value of sustainable practices for environmental protection and compassion to animals.
I like to hike with my boyfriend, my dearest friends, and my family. Getting to talk and laugh with them, and having a shared enriching experience, is truly wonderful. It is better than anything on TV! And even better than a warm kabocha pumpkin salad with tahini-miso dressing, which for me is saying a lot!
My dad and I recently took a hike and he told me a story from his past that I had never heard before. He had once combed a river looking for a possible dead body (as a former firefighter) and instead found a cash register! (The person was later found alive and well.) But, Dad, whaaaat??! How did I not know of this comical adventure! We talked about our dream to train to enter a bike ride and plotted how to get him an affordable bike. We discovered we both loved a totally awesome YouTube video of baby eagles being born.
If scouting taught us anything, it's that hiking builds bonds and psychologists agree.
Recently my boyfriend accomplished a week-long digital detox. This means no smart phone, no computers - no screens in general. I often listen to NPR, but never through my old clock radio! If I knew that thing talked, I would have tried to play a podcast on it a long time ago! :) We've become so hyper-technical, so reactive, over-social, and inundated with information. In my opinion, this is progress and not necessarily a bad thing, but it does provide a great challenge in unwinding.
Hiking is old world. It's simple and free. It allows you to disconnect (just don't get lost!), and the only thing you'll look at that will glow back is the sun, moon, and stars. A big part of achieving whole health is managing stress, finding happiness, and creating emotional well-being. Exercise can help us to relieve stress, and hiking has been found effective in fighting depression in scientific studies.
So I suggest taking a hike to improve your health. To find a trail near you, visit National Geographic's alltrails.com. Your City or State Parks Department's website will also have helpful information. You can use mapmyhike.com or the Map My Hike mobile app to find trails and map your route. Encourage your friends to join you, try recruiting hiking buddies on social media, or find hiking meetup groups.
Good luck, have fun, and please share your hiking experiences with us in the comment section below or tweet @forkfuloflove.