May 7, 2020
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir
Regular physical activity can help improve physical and mental health, especially when done in nature. Studies show that forest bathing, or Shinrin Yoku, a practice in Japan and other Asian countries of simply spending time in the forest, causes decreased blood pressure and stress levels, deactivated sympathetic nervous system and a stronger immune system. The health benefits of exposure to nature start instantly and increase with continued mild to moderate physical activity.
Hiking on trails is an accessible and inexpensive physical activity with the added benefit of being in nature. Hiking can burn more calories than walking or running because it often does not feel like exercise or working out. Individuals tend to spend more time outside than they would have if exercising in a different environment.
We often associate hiking uphill with the “real” workout but going downhill has health benefits too. This less strenuous form of exercise may be more manageable for sedentary or elderly individuals. However, downhill exercise puts more strain on joints, especially your knees. To mitigate this risk, go slowly, take small steps and zigzag if possible. Good hiking shoes and trekking poles may be of benefit too.
Interested in taking up hiking?
Newfoundland and Labrador has an abundance of natural environments and hiking trails for all ages and fitness levels. Here are some helpful tips:
- Be prepared by wearing layers and suitable footwear, bringing water, snacks, sunscreen and a small first aid kit.
- Start small and overestimate your trail time.
- Most importantly, use a buddy system. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’re expected home.
- The East Coast Trail Association has outlined how to get outside while staying safe and adhering to physical distancing guidelines.
- Newfoundland and Labrador – Experience Hiking & Walking
- The East Coast Trail Association
- REI – Hiking for Beginners
- Protecting Your Knees During Downhill Hikes
- Mitten, D., Overholt, J.R., et. al. (2016). Hiking: A Low-Cost, Accessible Intervention to Promote Health Benefits. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 302-310.
The Well-being Task Force
Faculty of Medicine