Hiking: Fitness for Life

So what is the point of exercise?  I used to think I should exercise to look good.  Now I believe that exercise is to feel good.  Looking good, if it happens, is just a bonus.

Exercise: For Body, Mind and Spirit

According to Dr. Dean Ornish, in his excellent book The Spectrum, regular exercise causes changes in the body at the genetic level: improved function of mitochondria, the energy cells of the body.  Prevention of diabetes, fatigue, and cardio-vascular disease.  Improved weight control, lower cholesterol, better sleep, better joints and strength, flexibility, stamina and balance. There is no other way to improved bodily function, no shortcut, than exercise.

Moreover, studies show exercise improves brain function at all ages, making people smarter. That’s right, regular exercise makes you smarter.  It also makes you happier, exercise releases chemicals that elevate your mood, lowers risk of depression and anxiety.

Bottom Line: If you feel anxious or down, exercising is the best thing for you.  The result is greater self confidence and well being.  Happiness.  Exercise is essential for body, mind and spirit.

Hiking and the Body

From an exercise standpoint, lets start with basic calorie expenditure.  It’s a measure of energy.

For a 180 pound person, walking burns about 100 calories per mile.  It’s the same for running.  However, on a 10% incline, double that to 200 calories per mile.  A 1000 foot of elevation climb over two miles, that is a 10% incline.  A good pace is about 2 miles per hour.    Add a 15 lb backpack, and another 30% calorie expenditure.  Which means that you can easily burn 500 calories per hour, or more.   I keep this picture in my phone to remind me of this.


Exercise that burns 500 calories per hour raises the heart level and provides a workout for the cardio-pulmonary system, as well as the entire body, if you use hiking poles.

Hiking and the Mind  

Hikers are creative. Research shows that spending time outdoors increases attention spans and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent.  There is a positive correlation between creative thinking and walking according to this study, which concludes walking “opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”

Hikers are Happier  Many studies show the positive correlation of hiking with improved mental health, see here and here and here for example.

Hiking: Low Impact Fitness for Life

I run several hiking groups right now, one in San Luis Obispo, and one in San Francisco, with a combined membership of about 2500 people.  Some of my strongest hikers are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Running will eventually wear out your knees, yet hiking is a low impact sport.  Even the Arthritis Foundation recommends hiking.  Hiking is something you can do for most of your life.

Bottom Line

Hiking, along with some kind of strength training, make up a good physical and mental regimen to keep you feeling good, and feeling good is age-defying.  You are as young as you feel.


Author: Cultural Explorer

Multi-Day Thru-Hiker. Cultural Explorer. Traveler of thousand-year old trails. Cool forests of Japan, South America, North America and Europe. The East and the West.

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