* Lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
* Lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
* Lower risk of colon and breast cancer, and possibly lung and endometrial cancer
* Increased bone density or a slower loss of density
* Reduced depression and better quality sleep
* Lower risk of early death (If you are physically active for 7 hours a week, your risk of dying early is 40% lower than someone active for less than 30 minutes a week.
* Weight control; hiking burns up 370 calories an hour (160-lb person)
Kids get many of the same benefits, including:
* Improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness
* Better bone health
* Less chance of becoming overweight
* Less chance of developing risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
* Possibly reduced risk of depression and feeling less stress, more ready to learn in school
* Sleeping better at night
What’s more, hiking exercises almost every part of your body: legs, knees, ankles, arms, hips and butt, abdominals, shoulders and neck. “Hiking exercises your body and your mind, and nourishes your imagination,” says Ignacio Malpica, a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer in Boulder, Colorado. “It creates awareness in your eyes and ears and the rest of your senses.”
How much activity do you need to reap these incredible health benefits? Experts say getting active for just 150 minutes a week – doing “moderate-intensity” aerobic exercise such as moderate hiking or brisk walking – leads to most of these benefits (reducing risks of colon and breast cancer requires another hour a week). That’s only 2½ hours a week. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Sneaking in a lunchtime hike up the hill near your office counts toward your total, as long as you’re active for at least ten minutes.
If you take part in more vigorous aerobic activities, such as running, dancing, or hiking uphill or with a heavy pack, you need only half that amount of time, or 75 minutes a week, to get health benefits.
What’s moderate exercise? You can talk, but you can’t sing during the activity. Vigorous? You can’t say more than a few words with pausing for breath. “When you are doing moderate exercise, you can continue for a long time, and you are breathing rhythmically,” explains Malpica. “With vigorous exercise, you can’t do it for more than a few minutes at a time.”
And if you rack up even more time, the benefits keep growing too. For even more substantial health benefits, such as an even lower risk of heart disease, aim for 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week.