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.
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?