Health & Wellness: Hiking

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Aristotle once said, “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”

Residents in Cullman County and the surrounding areas are lucky to have areas such as Hurricane Creek Park and Duck River Reservoir for hiking. Taking a moment to unplug and spend time in a natural setting has been shown to make a positive impact on mental health. Believe it or not, breaking free from the light cast by a television or computer screen can help improve your overall mood. The health benefits of hiking are innumerable. In a society filled with pleas for Americans to get out and get active, hiking is a great activity for all ages and fitness levels. If you still need some convincing to get out and take a hike, consider these known health and wellness benefits of hiking.

Taking a brisk nature walk or a hike can lower your risk of developing heart disease. Heart disease can describe a range of conditions that affect your heart, such as: coronary artery disease, arrhythmias (heart rhythm abnormalities) and narrowed or blocked blood vessels. Your heart is a muscle, and cardiovascular activities will increase your heart rate and strengthen the cardiovascular system and will improve overall health.

Hiking has also been shown to improve blood sugar levels, particularly in individuals who have Type-2 diabetes. Type-2 diabetes tends to occur in individuals who are overweight, sedentary and have a poor diet. By adding hiking to your routine, Type-2 diabetes patients will push glucose out of their blood stream and into surrounding cells, which will help maintain more consistent blood sugar levels.

This activity will also boost bone density, since walking is a weight-bearing exercise. The impact of your feet hitting the ground during prolonged hikes can increase the bone density in your lower body. There will be even more impact when walking uphill, or downhill. This will not only strengthen your bones, but your muscles as well. Hiking can strengthen and tone your entire body depending on the duration and terrain. A change in terrain will also help to improve balance by combining movements of multiple muscle groups at the same time. This synchronization paired with locomotion and adaptation to changing landscape requires core and lower body strength that will aid in balance.  Strengthening your body without setting foot in a gym? That sounds like a plus.

Another big plus, hiking can contribute to weight loss and help maintain a healthy weight. There are many contributing factors to weight loss, but the pace and duration of the hike can be a huge determining factor. Also, if you consume less calories than you expend during a physical activity, weight loss should occur.

Take the time to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. Even if you are not planning on taking a hike for health reasons, it is a nice way to spend the day with friends and family. If you have a particular destination picked out, print out a trail map, or pick one up if they are available. If there are multiple trails, they will usually vary in terrain and length. Depending on your fitness level this will help determine the best path for you. However, if you have any existing health concerns always contact your physician and inquire about possible health risks of new physical activities. Once you have been given the all-clear, make some time to get out and live!


Kayti Persall

Health & Wellness Coordinator, Cullman City Parks & Recreation

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