My husband has always been an outdoorsy kind of guy. Me, not so much — that is, until one hike changed everything.
In August of 2015, he persuaded me to join him on a hike on a section of the Appalachian Trail. The whole thing was invigorating in more ways than one.
There’s something very special about hiking on a nice day. Of course, you get the benefit of exercise and fresh air. But it’s also an inexpensive date that’ll tell you a lot about your partner. For example, I had known my husband for over a decade by that point. But I’d never seen him navigate the great outdoors.
I also had no clue he knew how to filter stream water and make it safe to drink. Suffice to say, those topics never came up in our relationship before.
November 17 was Take a Hike Day, but even if you missed it, you should be inspired to go out there and see if hiking is for you. All you need to do is make sure you have the proper equipment — including great shoes for the outdoors, proper sunblock (yes, even in the winter), and a big water bottle. Bringing some friends along will also make it more fun. Even though I haven’t been on a hike quite as big since, I’m already looking forward to going out in the near future with my daughter, who has seemingly inherited my husband’s love of all things outdoors.
If you still need a little bit of coaxing, here are nine benefits of the hike that made me realize that maybe I’m not such a homebody after all.
It was a nice vacation from screens.
Sure, the phone was out to take a few occasional photos, but I wasn’t staring down at it for hours at a time. Instead, I was taking in the beauty of nature. Have you ever taken the time to just look at the nature that surrounds you? It’s a very soothing experience. Hiking is a great way to remember that life is all around us. It’s OK to unplug and take in the moment without livestreaming it on Instagram.
My pedometer went up with little effort.
When you’re walking outdoors, your brain might not even register that you’re out getting steps. Instead, it’s too focused on the world around you. Unlike the treadmill, which has its own set of perks, it’s really hard to tune out and get bored while on a hike. There may be a few moments where you need a little rest, and you’ll probably feel it the next day — but you’ll have no problem hitting your step goals.
It improved my balance.
One hike won’t change everything, but at the end of the day, I was much more confident with my body and the way it moved. I’m naturally clumsy, so it was a big win. Having a hiking pole definitely helped (and gave me more of a workout), but with more exposure to trailing the outdoors, it may not be as necessary.
It was a shared experience just between me and my husband.
We talk about that first hike fondly. Unlike going to the movies, it was an experience that only we had. Every hike is different — even if it’s on the same trail. This time around, we heroically had to maneuver our way around a few snakes who also wanted to experience the hike with us. It was a little scary at the time, but a colorful part of our story.
I felt a connection toward others I saw on the trail.
Even though I just mentioned that each experience is different, you still feel a kinship with the people around you. Everyone around you is outside trying to reach a similar goal. Even if you’re on the shy side, you’ll find yourself opening up to others on the trail if it comes to it. Be prepared to get plenty of nods of recognition from your fellow hikers.
I also felt inspired to plan my next hike.
People do get addicted to hiking. There’s something about exploring nature that’s thrilling. Plus, once you take in the sights and the sounds of the woods, it can be hard to go back to work where the background noises include typing and stressful phone calls. When you enjoy going outside, your body will naturally encourage you to keep up with the habit.
It was a good mental health day.
I’m not saying that the hike cured my anxiety and mild depression, but it gave me more positive vibes than I thought possible. Stanford researchers have studied the effect of nature on mental health and figured out that the two are definitely linked. People who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reportedly showed decreased activity in a level of their brain that aided depressive thoughts in comparison to those who walked that amount in a busy and noisy city.
It helped me concentrate.
Remember how I mentioned snakes? When there are things that might be potentially dangerous around, your brain is on high alert. Business Insider reported that those who went out on a hike scored far better on a proofreading exam than those who didn’t. The outside helps keep you focused.
I had the best sleep I've had in years.
All of us have had a restless night or two — but I’ve dealt with straight-up insomnia before. When you don’t sleep well, the entire day ahead is much more difficult than it has to be. After hiking, I was relaxed enough to naturally drift off without any sort of issue. Hiking outside also reportedly helps your body temperature regulate so that your body can understand that it’s bedtime and shut down accordingly.