An interesting thing quite common among hikers is that they are often seen and described mostly by their friends or colleagues as ‘crazy’ people. Why? It’s because they are perceived to be doing an activity which doesn’t make much sense to these people. The idea of using your precious time and limited work-leaves and on top of that, paying for it with your hard-earned money sounds ridiculous to them. They are often surprised at how you can stay disconnected from the internet and the world while trekking in remote areas. Why would you go through such hard work and pain just to see a few nice views? How can you live without the internet? Wouldn’t you rather utilize this time, effort and money going off to a beach resort, get a beer and just chill, instead of a hard, messy walk on difficult terrain?
There are the questions hikers are often asked by people who are either ignorant and mostly clueless about what hiking actually entails and offers or because they just don’t care. It’s high time that they and everyone else should be aware of why on earth do people actually hike and why they should start too.
People who ask such questions with shock and awe written all over their faces, should know that serial hikers are just normal ordinary humans like them who happen to have realized the superpowers of hiking. Most experienced hikers have developed an understanding of what a walk in the wilderness can do for them. They have realized what being outside in nature can do for them. It’s not just about the scenes, the sights and the breathtaking vistas that engulf them with powerful emotions at every step of the trail. It’s so much more than that.
Hiking as we know it today may seem like just a recreational concept to many. On the contrary, the outdoor activity has been a part of our survival story from prehistoric times. As hunter-gatherers and foragers, our primitive predecessors travelled far and wide in search of food. The earliest human inhabitants on earth with the most primitive means were perhaps the greatest explorers on foot. Be it in search of food, discovering new and unexplored areas or escaping wild animals, hiking was intricately linked to their daily struggle to survive. Perhaps that’s why we are hard-wired to be outside. Sadly, with the advent of technology and modern innovations, we have become lazy. We are increasingly losing our primal instincts and people and especially children nowadays rarely go outdoors. People are loving their indoor lives hooked on to their sleek portable devices. Hiking thus has changed its meaning, from an integral component of our lives to becoming just another form of human recreation to be done just for fun. It should be seen not just a mere recreational activity but should be gradually integrated into our lives. Lack of time and accessibility may hinder this but people who do it often will reap not just short-term benefits of hiking, but also improve their lives in the longer run.
The most common motivations for hiking are one or a combined form of the following. Many people go on hikes to travel to a pristine place with beautiful sceneries perhaps accessible only by foot. Others may want to go just to fill up their insta-profile with drone shots for validation purposes. Still others tag along with their friends without knowing what they are getting into. Photography enthusiasts may go on hikes to hone their skills and polish their craft and create memories. Some urban folks venture out to escape from their busy work schedules and take a few days off from the hustle and bustle of the city to de-stress. Whatever be their reasons and motivations, hiking to an untouched wild place gives everyone a chance to declutter their minds, be more self-aware, and calm themselves in serene places of nature. It throws a challenge to be overcome and teaches the art of managing themselves with fewer resources in remote areas. It throws them outside their comfort zones while teaching them perseverance, determination and resilience. In the wilderness, everybody gets a chance to disconnect from the world, away from the noise of the concrete jungle and the sound of constant notifications or emails. All get awed by the stunning views of Mother Nature and get humbling experience from their insignificance in front of majestic snow-capped mountains. Hikers get reinvigorated and revitalized. With renewed vigour they go back to work or their daily lives with a fresh lease of life inside.
The lure of traveling to a magnificent place and the boost of inner energy people received after a refreshing hike are perhaps the most common incentives to convince someone to go on a hike. But hiking can impact our lives in other ways too, as science has started to show.
Hiking helps your physical and mental well-being in a major way. It’s easy to find hundreds of studies showcasing the effects of hiking on the human mind and the body. Apart from improving cardiovascular fitness and endurance, our metabolic rates, its positive effects on enhancing our balance and stability in the long run, hiking can also lead to more calorie burn. According to one study, “Walking on uneven terrain is more energetically costly than walking on smooth ground”. Not just the body, hiking has been shown to positively impact our mind and mental well-being. The study found that “time spent in natural environments (as opposed to busy city settings) calmed activity in a part of the brain that research has linked to mental illness. Being in nature also seems to reduce mind’s propensity to “ruminate”—a word psychologist’s use for negative, self-focused patterns of thought that are linked with anxiety and depression”. Another study has found that “….a group experience of regular monitored mountain hiking, organized as an add-on therapy to usual care, is associated with an improvement of hopelessness, depression, and suicide ideation in patients suffering from high-level suicide risk.”. Hiking has been shown to result “in affective benefits (decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and preservation of positive affect) as well as cognitive benefits (increased working memory performance).” It also boosts creativity, focus and concentration and problem-solving skills are also enhanced. Thus not just physical benefits, but taking a walk in the wilderness can go a long way in enhancing our mental well-being also. Hiking has the power to keep us mentally healthy and happy in our lives.
It doesn’t matter what a hiker’s main motivation is as long as she is doing it more often. But it’s important to have the knowledge on how it can help you in your life. The long-term physical and mental health benefits of hiking along with the fact that it touches your soul, refreshes you and brings clarity in your mind, should be reason enough for everyone to adopt an active lifestyle and start hiking. With its positive impact on our mind, body and soul, hikers know how to answer the questions mentioned at the beginning. For people who are new and want to take up hiking, just know that spending precious time, effort and money on hiking experiences is absolutely worth it. Not just for your present moments but for your future as well.
It’s interesting to note that science has perhaps started to prove now what John Muir, the great naturalist had once said:
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”.