Cardio (Sweatastic) / My Life (sometimes I need to share)

Why Hike? Nature as a Restorative Environment

After spending the last five days in Denver I got to experience first hand how insanely active everyone is. Overall, my impression is that Denver natives don’t go to the gym, lift weights, or run on treadmills. They do things for fun that just also happen to burn calories and keep you fit.

Enter: Hiking.

I’ve hiked several times before and have always enjoyed it. You have an end goal: to reach the summit. You enjoy the process: looking at the scenery. You can even enjoy the company of others: ridiculously active in-shape friends.

Hikes can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Irrespective of how long you hike, it’s an amazing workout. Hiking can burn up to 370 calories an hour for a 155 pound person. Can you imagine doing that all day??

Hiking is fundamentally different from walking or running. While you still get all the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, you are essentially doing an interval workout- alternating periods of flatter, faster stretches with steeper, slower ones. It also incorporates the entire body: the muscles used on the way up are entirely different than the muscles used on the way down. Not only do you work your legs, but you also engage your core muscles while trying to stay balanced on jagged trails. If you’re carrying a backpack (which most people often do), you end up incorporating muscles in your upper body as well.

It turns out there is also mounting evidence that surrounding yourself with nature can actually improve your cognitive functioning. Specifically, it leads to an improvement in directed attention. Attention Restoration Theory suggests that people can concentrate better after interacting with nature because they are not required to pay voluntary or conscious attention to their surroundings; rather, the attention given to nature is passive. This means that, while  surrounded by nature, people give the part of their brain that performs directed attention (voluntary/conscious) a break to “restore” itself, while passively paying attention to their calm and peaceful surroundings. The result is that when they return to urban fast paced environments, they can actually concentrate better. One study conducted by faculty at the University of Michigan goes into greater detail about how this was tested and confirmed.

On Sunday, I did a solid hike up Mount Sanitas in Boulder with two of my best friends. The state of Colorado has an unreal number of potential hiking trails, ranging from relatively nice and easy to strenuous and hard (practically like rock climbing).

For the record, I’ve also hiked in areas that aren’t considered “big” hiking places (like Westchester, NY, Nashville, TN, and, yes, even the flat midwest in Missouri). You’d be surprised at what you might find!

So, with all the scientific evidence supporting tangible benefits of hiking, why not find a trail?

Happy Hiking!

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7 thoughts on “Why Hike? Nature as a Restorative Environment

  1. Reblogged this on proactiveoutside and commented:
    This is one of the blogs I follow, and I like the idea that a fitness instructor has broken down the caloric, fitness and mental benefits to being a regular hiker. Obviously, I’ve touted the benefits in many posts, but here you have a writer break it down from a fitness instructor’s point of view. It’s worth a read.

  2. Hey! I’m actually heading to Colorado for a long weekend next weekend… staying in Boulder for two nights and Denver for one. Do you have any recommendations for hiking trails there for someone who has a slight fear of heights/open edges? I’m looking for a more moderate hike I think with great views but where I can also still get a great workout! Also any “must try” places you can think of — I’m all ears! 🙂

    • That’s so fun! There are lots of awesome things to do in both places 🙂

      The biggie in Boulder is Chautauqua Park- it has a lot of different trails to choose from. I’m pretty sure it has better views and is prettier than the hike that I did, which was Mount Sanitas. The Mount Sanitas hike was definitely moderate difficulty with only 1.5 miles up and 1.5 miles down (takes about 1 1/2-2 hours depending on how fast you go and how many stops you make), but the views were kinda so-so (my pictures in this post are from there).

      At Chautauqua, you have more options and I think it’s nicer. I haven’t personally been, but here are a bunch of Yelp reviews of the various trails that people have done (some are more helpful than others): http://www.yelp.com/biz/chautauqua-park-boulder-2.
      The Yelp stuff also has a bunch of pictures, so you can get an idea of what hiking there is like. There is more variation in difficulty and length of time. You can also use the trail link at the end of my post for more detailed information.

      Hope that helps! Looking forward to seeing your pictures 🙂

    • I have hiked both Mt. Sanitas (with Tori!) as well as many of the trails at Chautauqua. Both trails are rather crowded, unfortunately, but both offer scenic overlooks of Boulder to one side and the more grand mountains on the other.

      Mr. Sanitas wasn’t too long or difficult, while Chautauqua offers the potential to be hiking all day on trails that vary from super strenuous to flat and relaxed. So that would likely be your best bet! Make sure you’ve mapped your route beforehand so you know what you’re getting into, though. It would be a shame to set out on a 2 hour hike and wind up on the trails, lost, for 5+ hours (oh, not that I know anything about that… ;)).

      Enjoy your visit! This state has SO much to offer!

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