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

As a busy mom of two, finding time for exercise can be challenging. But wanting to set a good example for my kids, I make it a priority, but is hiking good for your heart.

This is one big question, about hiking, I see on forums these days. Hiking has become my go-to cardio activity, especially since it offers amazing benefits for heart health.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll dig into the details on how hiking impacts the heart. I’ll cover everything you need to know about reaping cardio benefits from hitting the trails. Let’s lace up our boots and start strengthening our tickers!

 

An Overview of How Hiking Benefits Heart Health

Before diving in, let’s briefly overview the main ways hiking is good for the heart:

  • Aerobic exercise keeps the heart muscle strong.
  • It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Hiking reduces stress levels that can strain the heart.
  • Being outdoors provides vitamin D from sunlight.
  • The social aspect has emotional benefits for heart health.
  • It helps maintain a healthy body weight.

 

Hiking as an Aerobic Exercise for Cardio Fitness

Aerobic exercise is any activity that raises your heart rate for an extended period. It builds up cardiovascular endurance, which is critical for heart health.

Hiking is considered a form of aerobic exercise. According to a study, weekly exercises, (of which hiking is a good example), significantly boosts VO2 max, which measures oxygen delivery throughout the body.

Other studies show hiking helps improve myocardial function, lowers resting heart rate, and increases cardiac output. These markers of cardiovascular health get better the more often you hike.

So the verdict is in – hiking delivers stellar benefits as an aerobic exercise to boost heart health. It’s one of the best forms of cardio you can choose.

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

 

Hiking Lowers Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

High blood pressure and cholesterol are two of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. The good news? Hiking has been shown to lower both numbers.

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who engaged in regular hiking saw significant decreases in their blood pressure readings. Just 1 hour of hiking weekly was enough to see benefits.

And a report in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health concluded that not only does hiking lower blood pressure, but also body-wide inflammation and cholesterol levels.

This powerful combination makes hiking ideal for supporting heart health through improvements in these key risk factors.

Researchers attribute the benefits to a compound called endothelin-1. Hiking releases this substance, which causes blood vessels to dilate and lower stress on the heart.

 

Hiking as a Stress Reliever to Benefit the Heart

It’s well known that chronic stress takes a toll on cardiovascular health. Hormones released when we’re stressed raise heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and even damage heart muscles if left unchecked.

Here’s where hiking provides a double boost – not only aerobic exercise, but also stress relief!

Being outdoors in nature has proven mental health benefits. Studies show it lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. For example, one report in Environmental Research found cortisol levels were lower after hiking compared to walking in an urban setting.

The repetitive movements of hiking produce a meditative effect as well. This mind-clearing benefit further reduces daily stress.

Plus, the social aspect of hiking can provide mood-lifting bonding time with friends or family.

So by working as physical exercise AND a stress reducer, hiking delivers a powerful positive impact on the heart.

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

 

Hiking as a Source of Heart-Healthy Vitamin D

Here’s an extra perk of hiking outdoors – the chance to soak up some vitamin D from the sun!

Vitamin D has been shown to support heart health in several ways. It reduces inflammation that can damage blood vessels. It also helps regulate calcium absorption and bone health.

But many of us don’t get enough vitamin D, especially during cold weather months. Spending time outdoors hiking gives us the opportunity to stock up on this beneficial nutrient.

Just 10-15 minutes of midday sun 3 times per week is often adequate to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. Of course, don’t forget your SPF!

So take advantage of being outside to give your heart a vitamin boost. Those sunny day hikes offer more benefits than you might have realized!

 

The Emotional and Social Benefits of Hiking for Heart Health

We’ve covered the main physical benefits, but let’s not underestimate the mental and emotional perks as well. These can have significant impacts on heart health.

Being out in nature is calming and rewarding. Taking in beautiful scenery from mountain peaks or forest trails is food for the soul. This helps manage everyday stresses that can tax the heart.

Hiking is also a social activity that typically involves spending quality time with friends, family, or even pets! Social engagement and support is tightly connected to heart health.

One study in the journal Circulation found that social isolation raised the risk of heart disease by 29%. So the bonding time during hiking provides mood-boosting benefits for your ticker.

Don’t underestimate these less-tangible rewards of hiking. They make a big contribution to keeping your heart emotionally happy and healthy!

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

 

Hiking for Weight Loss and Maintenance

Lastly, we can’t ignore the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight for your heart. Obesity and excess weight add strain to the cardiovascular system.

Hiking is an amazing form of exercise that helps burn calories and shed extra pounds. A 160 lb person can burn around 400 calories with just one hour of hiking.

Plus, being outdoors makes you less likely to overeat or make poor food choices. Hiking allows you to maintain weight loss long-term as a sustainable lifestyle choice.

With weight management also comes decreased risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension – all major risk factors.

So take advantage of hiking’s calorie-blasting benefits as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. Your heart will thank you!

 

Habits and Techniques for the Biggest Heart Benefits

Now that you know why hiking is so great for the heart, let’s talk about how to optimize the experience. Here are some hiking habits and techniques that will maximize cardiovascular benefits:

1. Choose Aerobic Hiking Intensity

Aim for an intensity level between 60-75% of your maximum heart rate. This puts you in the target heart-pumping zone, but you can still hold a conversation.

2. Incorporate Hills

Look for hiking trails with some inclines and hills. Ascending uphill challenges your heart with added resistance.

3. Go For Distance

Build up endurance and stamina by completing longer mileage hikes. Try starting with 5 miles and work up to 10-15 mile treks.

4. Maintain Proper Posture

Stand up straight with shoulders back while hiking. This opens up the chest cavity for maximum lung expansion.

5. Use Trekking Poles

Trekking poles engage your upper body and take stress off your knees on descents. Plus, they increase heart rate since your arms get worked too!

6. Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water before, during and after hiking. Dehydration strains the cardiovascular system.

7. Monitor Your Breathing

Focus on taking full, deep breaths as you hike. Deep inhales deliver more oxygen to nourish heart muscles.

8. Hike Year-Round

For the biggest benefits, hike in all seasons to keep your routine consistent. Just adjust for weather safety.

Optimizing these little details amplifies hiking’s positive effects for your heart health!

Also Read: Is Hiking Good for Your Brain? 7 Powerful and Proven Mental Health Benefits from Hiking

 

My Experience With Hiking for Heart Health

Ever since I started hiking regularly a few years ago, I’ve noticed huge improvements in my cardiovascular fitness. Here are some of the changes I attribute specifically to time spent out on the trails:

– Lower resting heart rate – My RHR used to be around 75 bpm and now it’s down to 60 bpm, indicating increased heart efficiency.

– Less shortness of breath – I can climb multiple flights of stairs now without getting winded. My cardio endurance is way up!

– Faster post-hike heart rate recovery – After an intense uphill hike, my HR returns to normal faster now, which shows the heart muscle has strengthened.

– Decreased blood pressure – At my last physical, my BP was down 10 points from previous readings, likely thanks to hiking’s benefits.

– Fewer daily stress feelings – I cope with everyday stressors and anxiety much better since starting regular hiking.

– Weight loss – I lost 12 pounds over the first 2 months after I began hiking frequently. This has stabilized my weight long-term.

– Improved mood – I just feel happier, calmer, and more resilient emotionally thanks to the mental benefits of hiking.

While results can vary, I credit hiking with significantly improving my heart health based on all of these markers. And I tell my kids the hiking adventures are why “Mom has a strong heart!”

 

Expert Insights on Hiking for Maximum Heart Health

Don’t just take my word for it that hiking benefits the heart. Health and fitness experts agree it’s one of the best activities you can choose for cardiovascular benefits:

“Hiking allows you to exercise in nature, absorb vitamin D and socialize – all amazing for heart health.” – Dr. Kelly R., Cardiologist

“The combination of aerobic activity with lower stress is ideal. Hiking ticks all the boxes.” – Jonathan T., Exercise Physiologist

“Hiking up hills really pushes your cardio limits in a safe, low-impact way.” – Suzanne P., Physical Therapist

“The heart benefits are enhanced if you pick trails with lots of nature and scenic views.” – Allison F., Psychologist

“Don’t underestimate the power of spending time outdoors for your emotional health and heart.” – Dr. Jessica C., Family Medicine Doctor

“Hiking is so accessible for most fitness levels. You control the intensity by your route choice.” – Leslie S., Personal Trainer

The experts have spoken – they strongly recommend lacing up your hiking boots for a healthy heart!

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

 

FAQs: Is Hiking Good for your Heart

 

How often should I hike for ideal heart benefits?

Aim for hiking cardio sessions 3-4 days per week. Brisk daily walks provide benefits too. The key is regular, consistent activity.

How long does it take to see heart improvements from hiking?

You’ll notice small changes in endurance and breathing within the first month. But it takes 3-6 months of routine hiking for substantial heart strengthening.

Which is better for the heart – walking or hiking?

Hiking provides more health perks by incorporating hills, variable terrain, and increased cardio intensity. But regular brisk walks offer great benefits too.

Can hiking benefit people with a heart condition?

Always consult your cardiologist, but research shows hiking can be safe for many heart patients when done at the appropriate level. Start slowly.

Does hiking help reverse heart disease?

While not definitive, studies show hiking can improve cholesterol levels and other risk factors. So it may help slow or partially reverse heart disease progression.

Is hiking better than running for heart health?

Hiking provides the aerobic intensity without as much joint impact. But both offer excellent cardiovascular benefits. Do what you enjoy most!

How does hiking affect heart rate variability?

Some research indicates being outdoors for hiking may increase HRV markers more than indoor cardio. This points to positive effects on the heart.

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