Is hiking a hobby? Absolutely! It’s not just any old hobby. It’s one that’s both fun for you and has a variety of physical and mental health benefits.
Hiking can help improve relationships and clean your lungs, even help keep your brain and memory sharp. It’s something that can be done alone or with friends.
Some people consider hiking a sport, but really it’s more of a recreational pursuit. It’s not especially competitive, but it can involve strenuous physical activity.
In this article you’ll learn 12 fun and scientifically proven benefits of picking up hiking as a hobby, which may be what you need if you’re new to hiking.
#1: Hiking is Inexpensive
If you want something free or really cheap to do, hiking is a great hobby. Hiking is just about as inexpensive as it gets.
Hiking can be completely free at certain parks, national forests and recreation areas. However, some hiking trails, like Old Rag, require a day-use permit.
State and national parks typically have an entry fee, but you can save money by purchasing an annual pass, like the America the Beautiful Pass.
The America the Beautiful pass allows free entry to all national parks, lakeshores, historical parks, military parks and more for one full year.
In Virginia, the Naturally Yours Passport allows free entry to all state parks for 12 months. Both are great deals for those who frequent state and national parks.
Hiking does not require expensive or fancy gear. You also don’t need expensive clothes or footwear, though hiking shoes or boots are a plus on certain trails.
Just wear what’s comfortable, bring day hike essentials, including a first aid kit, trail snacks and a water bottle, and get out there for a day hike.
#2: Hiking is Easy to Start
The only real skill you need to start hiking is the ability to walk. You don’t have to take classes or buy gear. Just place one foot in front of the other to hike.
Of course, there are plenty of workshops, classes and gear you can buy if you want to get serious about hiking or backpacking.
But to get started, all you need to do is find a short, easy trail nearby and go hike it. Check out my Trail Finder feature to find day hikes near you.
#3: Hiking Has Mental Health Benefits
Exercise is great for improving and supporting your mental health. Hiking is no exception.
According to a study conducted by Stanford University, walking in nature yields numerous mental health benefits and may reduce the risk of depression.
This study found that people who spend 90 minutes walking in nature showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with depression.
If you struggle with depression, consider hitting the trails regularly to help give your mental health a boost.
#4: Hiking Can Keep the Kids Active
If you have kids, you know that they’re a boundless source of energy.
Hiking is a great hobby to help them expend that energy. Not only does it keep kids active and moving, it helps you stay active, too.
If you have young children, make the hike interactive with a nature-themed scavenger hunt or a hike to a cool feature, like a waterfall or rock scramble.
Plus, hiking is a great educational opportunity for kids. They can learn about flora and fauna, hiking etiquette and valuable outdoor skills.
For a selection of fun-filled hikes to complete with kids, I hope you’ll check out my new book, Hiking with Kids Virginia: 52 Best Hikes for Families.
#5: Hiking Keeps Your Mind Sharp
Hiking is great for your body and your mood. It’s also a great way to keep your mind sharp.
In fact, hiking keeps your mind sharper than many other forms of exercise.
Neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin explains that hiking exercises the part of your brain designed to help you navigate through life.
When you hike, you’re not mindlessly walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike in one place.
You’re navigating uneven terrain, watching out for rocks, branches, and other obstacles, as well as observing nature.
Exercising this part of your brain keeps your mind sharp and aids in memory.
#6: Hiking is Calming
Remember how I said hiking has been scientifically proven to have mental health benefits?
Not only does it boost your mood, but it can also help you stay calm, too.
In a study published on ScienceDirect, participants who spent time walking in nature were observed to have an overall decreased anxiety.
Another study on ScienceDirect found that exposure to nature is associated with higher degrees of well-being and life satisfaction, too.
#7: Hiking Can Improve Relationships
Hiking is great for your mental health, and, as a result, it’s great for your relationships, too.
Whether you’re hiking solo or with a partner or family, there are many ways in which hiking can help your relationships.
However, hiking together also has relationship strengthening impacts, too.
Hiking with friends, family or partners can help you grow closer as you navigate together, problem solve or even help each other from a fall or injury.
Plus, uninterrupted quality time in nature creates lasting memories.
#8: Hiking Clears Your Lungs
Have you ever heard the saying: “it’s like a breath of fresh air”? It turns out there’s more to it than just being a figure of speech.
Indoor air isn’t always the best air for your lungs. Stepping out into nature and breathing fresh air has many health benefits, especially for your lungs.
Fresh air found in nature has more oxygen and is typically free from the pollutants found in homes and urban areas.
The exposure to increased oxygen helps dilate your airways and improves your lungs’ ability to clean themselves.
#9: Hiking Helps You Get More Vitamin D
Most Americans lack vitamin D. Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin for many functions in your body.
Adequate levels of vitamin D are essential for mood regulation, immune system function, bone health, and so much more.
Our bodies can make vitamin D naturally from sunlight exposure, so hiking is a great way to help increase your levels of this essential vitamin.
#10: Hiking Helps You Sleep Better
If you have trouble sleeping, hiking can actually help fix that. Hitting the hay after a long and tiring day of hiking is a surefire way to fall asleep fast.
According to Stanford University, spending time in nature helps regulate your circadian rhythm, leading to increased sleep quality.
The study also states that those who spend more time in nature also get more physical activity and exercise which in turn promotes better sleep.
The exposure to extra oxygen can also help aid in more restful and restorative sleep and increased energy levels.
#11: A Hiking Hobby Can Be Solo or Social
Whether you’re in introvert or an extrovert, a hiking hobby can be a great way to help you recharge.
Hiking can be a social hobby and activity, but it can also be done alone or with a small group. However you prefer to do it, you’re sure to reap the benefits.
If you want to find a hiking buddy or meet new people, good resources are Facebook hiking groups, as well as MeetUp groups that organize hikes.
#12: Hiking is a Great Break
Finally, a hiking hobby is just a great break. Whether you need a break from work, from the daily grind, from housework or chores, hit the hiking trails.
You can take a short hike in less than an hour or plan weekend hiking trips that last most of the day.
However you do it, you’re sure to find a great break in nature and reap the benefits of sunlight, fresh air and natural scenery.