Does Hiking Change Your Body? 7 Amazing Whole-Body Wellness Benefits

I love escaping into nature, and I’m often asked if spending time hiking can truly change your body for the better. Here’s how it’s usually framed, “Does hiking change your body?”

And after years of hiking through stunning landscapes near and far, I can definitively say that hiking delivers amazing whole-body wellness benefits that transform your physical health inside and out!

In this in-depth guide, I’ll take you through ways that hiking reshapes your body by strengthening your heart, muscles, and bones while also reducing disease risk and flooding your systems with feel-good endorphins.

I’ll provide tips to maximize hiking’s body benefits through proper nutrition, gear, and training. Let’s hit the trail!

 

7 Key Body Benefits of Hiking

Here are 7 research-backed ways hiking positively changes your physical health:

1. Strengthens the Heart

– Hiking elevates heart rate into the aerobic zone, providing a sustained cardio workout that increases cardiac output.

– A stronger heart pumps blood more efficiently, reducing heart disease risk.

2. Builds Muscle Strength

– The challenging climbs and varied terrain of hiking engage all major muscle groups in both the lower and upper body.

– Muscles adapt to hiking stresses by growing stronger over time. Quads, glutes, calves, core and upper body all benefit.

3. Improves Balance and Coordination

– Hiking involves navigating uneven terrain, forcing constant small adjustments in gait and arm movements.

– This dynamic balance challenge strengthens stabilizer muscles and neural signaling for coordination.

4. Increases Bone Density

– The impact stresses of hiking encourage bone remodeling processes that boost density, reducing risk of osteoporosis.

– Weight-bearing activity like hiking helps build strong, resilient bones over a lifetime.

5. Boosts Immunity

– Moderate exercise like hiking raises white blood cell counts, activating the immune system.

– Spending time in nature while hiking also exposes you to diverse microbes that bolster immunity.

6. Reduces Inflammation

– Hiking’s aerobic exercise and exposure to greenspace lowers inflammatory cytokines while raising anti-inflammatory compounds.

– Lower inflammation reduces disease risk and eases joint pain.

7. Releases Endorphins

– Sustained aerobic hiking activates endocannabinoid and opioid systems, flooding the body with mood-boosting endorphins.

– These neurochemical changes relieve pain and induce a “runner’s high”.

Also Read: Is Hiking Good for Your Heart? Here are 13+ Intriguing and Compelling Reasons to Believe It is

 

Hiking Techniques for Greater Body Benefits

Tweaking your hiking approach can help sculpt an even stronger hiking physique. Try these techniques:

Include hill repeats – charge up steep sections to build leg power then jog back down to recover.

Add weighted hiking – wear a backpack with extra weight (in moderation) to increase calorie burn and muscle building.

Vary your pace – incorporate intentional faster interval “bursts” to raise heart rate, then recover.

Use trekking poles – engage your upper body to build strength through poles’ resistance.

Focus on form – stand tall, engage core, bend knees to strengthen muscles through full range of motion.

Cross-train – supplement hiking with yoga, strength training and other sports to becoming a well-rounded athlete.

Proper body mechanics and hiking-specific drills transform hiking from just walking to a total body workout.

 

Essential Hiking Gear for Fitness Gains

Certain key gear items can help you hike safely and efficiently to see better fitness payoffs:

Trekking poles – Distribute weight, absorb impact and engage arms/shoulders.

Lightweight pack – Don’t overload pack since extra weight strains knees and back over miles.

Moisture wicking clothes – Prevent chafing and allow sweat evaporation to cool your body.

Wool hiking socks – Prevent blisters that derail consistency needed for training adaptations.

High carb/protein snacks – Fuel muscles effectively for sustained energy and recovery.

Hydration bladder (Camelbak) – Ensure constant access to hydration since dehydration impairs performance.

Ankle support braces – Provide extra stability if prone to ankle rolling that would require recovery time off the trails.

Investing in the right gear makes it easier to hike vigorously, consistently and safely as you advance your fitness.

Also Read: Is Hiking the Same as Jogging? Strange Similarities and Differences Between Hiking and Jogging

 

Nutrition Tips for Performance and Recovery

Optimizing nutrition before, during and after hiking maximizes results. Follow these tips:

  • Eat easily digestible carbs like oatmeal, toast or fruit before hiking for fuel.
  • Pack snacks high in protein and complex carbs to sustain energy like nuts, jerky and dried fruit.
  • Refuel post-hike with a mix of carbs and protein to aid muscle repair and growth like yogurt, eggs, quinoa, vegetables.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water with electrolytes before, during and after hiking.
  • Enjoy antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods like berries, tomatoes, fatty fish and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods post-hike like added sugar, fried foods, alcohol, processed carbs.
  • Consider a vegan or vegetarian hiking diet to reduce inflammation. Plants rule!
  • Celebrate big hike accomplishments with a fun sweet treat for dopamine’s sake! You earned it.

Nourishing yourself strategically helps your body thrive on trails over months and years.

 

Cross-Training for Hiking Fitness Gains

While hiking itself provides amazing training stimulus, adding supplemental exercises amplifies your results:

Strength Train 2x per Week

Focus on major muscle groups like legs, glutes, core, back and shoulders using resistance from weights, bands, etc. This prevents muscle imbalances and injuries.

Daily Yoga for Flexibility

Stretching muscles routinely through yoga improves range of motion and reduces risk of strains from overuse.

Some form of Cardio

1-2x per week, do an activity like swimming, cycling or rowing to build cardiovascular endurance, give your legs a break, yet still elevate heart health.

Balance/Proprioception Exercises

– Stand on one leg while brushing teeth, walk on a balance beam in a playground, dance in the kitchen! Enhanced balance boosts stability and coordination on the trails.

Cross-training creates a strong, resilient body that can thrive hiking for decades to come!

Also Read: Is Hiking Sporty? Powerful Considerations for Hiking as a Sport

 

Transforming Your Body Step-By-Step

Patience and consistency are key when physically transforming through hiking. Progression takes time. Here are typical beginner through advanced hiker’s bodies:

Beginner Hiker’s Body

– Slightly elevated heart health and endurance from aerobic hiking

– Some quad, glute and calf strengthening but minimal upper body change

– Improved flexibility in legs, hips, lower back

– Subtle improvements in balance

Intermediate Hiker’s Body

– Cardiovascular fitness clearly elevated – faster hiking heart rate, quicker recovery

– Increased quad, glute, calf and hamstring mass visible

– Core strength improves – flatter, more toned stomach

– Shoulders and arms show subtle increases in muscle mass

– Posture and balance improves from regular hiking over varied terrain

Advanced Hiker’s Body

– Exceptional heart health with very high aerobic capacity and endurance

– Visibly muscular legs – defined quads, hamstrings and glutes

– Increased core strength and abdominal muscle definition

– Greater muscle mass in shoulders, chest, arms, upper back

– Excellent balance and proprioception

– Low body fat percentage overall

The key is putting in the miles and hours over many months to let hiking work its magic. Trust the process. Your body will transform as fitness increases bit by bit.

 

Maintaining Physical Changes Long-Term

To make hiking’s body changes lasting, commit to life-long healthy habits. Here are my tips:

Continue Hitting the Trails

Prioritize hiking regularly to maintain the cardiovascular, strength and balance adaptations. Aerobic fitness diminishes quickly if you stop.

Focus on Nutrient Dense Foods

Make whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats your staples to fuel and recover from activity.

Stay Cross-Training

Continue strength training, yoga and other sports along with hiking. Varied training maintains whole-body fitness.

Monitor Aches and Pains

If joints become painful, rest and get professional help to heal overuse injuries or imbalances. Don’t push through acute pain.

Get Adequate Rest and Recovery

Respect rest days between big hike outings. Listen to your body’s needs for recovery. Prioritize sleep.

Stay Hydrated and Avoid Excess Alcohol

Keep drinking water consistently and moderate alcohol, which can degrade fitness gains over time.

With dedication to healthy movement, eating and self-care habits, hiking delivers lasting positive physical changes!

Also Read: Does Hiking Build Hips? 6 Amazing Benefits + 7 Expert Tips

 

Targeted Body Changes from Hiking

While hiking transforms the entire body, certain muscle groups and body parts adapt the most. Here’s a closer look at key hiking-induced improvements:

1. Stronger Legs and Glutes

The constant hill climbs, steep descents and varied terrain of hiking deliver an amazing strength workout for your lower body. Expect these improvements:

– Firmer, more lifted glutes from using the butt muscles to power uphill hiking steps. Battling gravity amplifies the workout for your glutes!

– Increased muscle definition and mass particularly in the quadriceps and hamstrings – these muscle groups drive each step up and down the mountain.

– Greater muscular endurance allowing you to hike further and on steeper terrain compared to when you began. The progressive overload principle causes strength gains over time.

– Enhanced stability and proprioception in ankles, knees and hips to optimize balance and coordination on trails. This reduces injury risk.

– Elevated bone density in the hips and legs from the impact loading forces generated through hiking. This strengthens bones over decades.

– Reduced risk of lower body issues like knee or hip arthritis due to stronger muscles supporting the joints during dynamic hiking movements.

2. Improved Core Strength

Between having to stabilize your core during off-camber traverses, keep upright on steep sections, and power steep ascents using core muscles, hiking forges a rock-solid core. Expect:

– Increased endurance of core stabilizer muscles leading to greater midline stability during hiking and everyday life movements.

– A stronger, tighter midsection and more defined abdominal musculature as core fat percentage drops. Hiking torches calories!

– Enhanced spinal stability from strengthened paraspinal muscles, which protects the back by keeping the vertebrae neutrally aligned.

– Overall better posture and spinal health from balanced core development. This reduces back pain risk.

– Greater core control and efficiency translating into faster paced hiking ascents and descents over time. Improved fitness leads to better performance.

3. Leaner Overall Physique

Due to the aerobic calorie burn, muscle building stimulus, and body wide training effect of hiking, over months you’ll notice:

– Decreased overall body fat percentage leading to increased leanness and muscle definition. Carrying a pack up countless hills necessitates shedding excess fat.

– Toning of the upper body including chest, shoulders, back and arms from pedaling trekking poles and greater time spent in heart rate elevating exertion. Less fat plus more muscle equals a toned look.

– A tighter, more lifted butt from highly activating the gluteal muscles during steep hiking sections. Gravity is your friend!

– A flatter, more defined stomach as visceral fat drops and abdominal muscles strengthen. Core-focused exercises further boost this.

– An overall more athletic, capable body composition thanks to full-body conditioning, improved bone health, enhanced neuromuscular signaling and cardiovascular gains from regular hiking.

4. Healthy Heart and Lungs

Two of the greatest gifts from hiking frequently over months and years are gains in heart health and cardiovascular fitness. You can expect:

– A slower resting heart rate as your heart muscle gets stronger. 60-70bpm is normal for very fit hikers.

– Faster recovery after intense efforts as heart efficiency and stamina improves.

– Lower blood pressure and healthier cholesterol levels thanks to enhanced vascular function.

– Increased blood volume and hemoglobin which boosts oxygen circulating during aerobic efforts.

– Strengthened respiratory muscles and greater lung capacity from challenging hikes at higher elevation.

– An overall lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues thanks to hiking’s cumulative effects.

Getting in mileage week after week yields huge heart health rewards over time.

 

Hormonal Changes and Benefits

Hiking can influence your biochemistry and hormones leading to additional whole-body benefits:

Endocannabinoids

Hiking raises levels of endocannabinoids like anandamide. This reduces pain, elevates mood and regulates digestion, immunity and sleep cycles.

Serotonin

Aerobic hiking boosts circulation of serotonin, the “happy hormone” linked to positive emotions. This helps combat anxiety and depression.

Cortisol

Being active outdoors lowers your cortisol response to stress. Chronically high cortisol causes muscle loss and fat storage. Hiking helps reset a healthy response.

Vitamin D

Time outdoors hiking, especially in sunlight, enhances Vitamin D levels which regulate calcium absorption for strong bones and influence thousands of biochemical pathways.

Dopamine

Reaching hiking goals triggers dopamine release. This rush of the motivational neurotransmitter keeps you eager to hit the trails again and again!

 

Common Hiking Injuries and How to Prevent Them

While wonderful for the body, hiking can provoke injuries if you don’t take proper precautions:

Knee Pain

Causes: Downhill impact, weak hips/glutes overworking quads

Prevention: Use poles to reduce knee strain descending. Strengthen hips/glutes/core.

Plantar Fasciitis

Causes: Overloaded foot ligaments/tissue from mileage

Prevention: Stretch calves fully. Wear shoes with arch support.

Shin Splints

Causes: Braking forces on lower legs

Prevention: Limit downhill mileage. Strengthen lower legs gradually.

Ankle Sprains

Causes: Uneven terrain, loose rocks

Prevention: Wear hiking boots with ankle support. Improve proprioception. Use poles.

Lower Back Pain

Causes: Weak core lets back compensate

Prevention: Strengthen core consistently. Use mindful posture.

 

Answers to 7 Key FAQs: Does Hiking Change Your Body?

To summarize the top fitness tips for using hiking to sculpt your best body, here are answers to 7 common FAQs:

How many miles should you hike a week to get fit?

Aim for 5-10 miles per week as a beginner, 10-15 miles to maintain fitness, or 15-30+ miles when training more intensively.

Does uphill or downhill hiking tone more?

Uphill hiking activates glutes more while downhill uses quads eccentrically to control descent – both build lower body strength in different ways.

Does hiking flatten your stomach?

Yes! The cardio, full core activation on hills, and calorie burn of hiking reduces belly fat to flatten and tone the midsection.

Does hiking make you skinnier?

It can lead to weight and fat loss over time as part of a calorie controlled diet, by burning calories and building metabolism boosting muscle.

Will hiking make me lose thigh fat?

Hiking hills consistently will help shed fat overall including the thighs by creating caloric deficit. Spot reduction is a myth though.

Is hiking enough exercise?

For general health, hiking alone can suffice, but adding cross-training enhances fitness. Mix hiking with strength training, yoga, cardio bursts 2-3x a week.

Does hiking tone arms and shoulders?

Using trekking poles effectively engages the upper body during hiking, leading to increased arm, chest and shoulder muscle development over time.

Is hiking enough exercise to stay fit?

For most people, hiking provides enough exercise to develop cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and overall health. But mixing in cross-training can enhance results.

Does hiking build glutes?

Yes! Powering uphill hiking steps engages the glutes deeply. Over time, hiking develops firmer, lifted glutes.

Does hiking make you lose belly fat?

Hiking can help reduce belly fat as part of an overall calorie deficit. The aerobic exercise, core activation on hills, and calorie burn specifically target visceral fat loss over time.

Is hiking bad for knees?

Hiking can be hard on knees for some. Using trekking poles, building hip/leg strength, and limiting pounding downhill can protect knees.

Does hiking make you taller?

There’s no evidence that hiking directly increases height. But strengthening muscles and improving posture from hiking may make you appear slightly taller.

Will hiking make me skinny?

If hiking burns more calories than you consume, it can lead to fat loss and a slimmer physique over time as part of a controlled calorie diet.

Is hiking better than the gym?

Hiking provides full-body conditioning outdoors, which many find more enjoyable than indoor gym workouts. But gyms offer more targeted strength training. Both have pros and cons.

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