The short answer is yes, hiking can help you with weight loss and form a key part of your overall weight loss program!
I think when people think of losing weight, many times the first port of call seems to be dieting. Dieting is used here, and throughout the rest of this post, in the context of radically changing your intake or content (or any mixture of the two) of the food that you eat. Dieting seems to me in many cases to be a somewhat dubious part of the process of losing weight.
Diet on the other hand, used here and throughout the rest of this post in terms of the actual, normal everyday content of your diet, is of course a critical, if not paramount, part of your overall health as well as your weight and shape.
Now, before continuing I must state that I am not a nutritionist nor am I a weight loss expert. However, I have read much material on the subject of general diet and health and would consider my lifestyle to be quite healthy. With all the above in mind, there are to me, two golden rules to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and balanced weight.
Golden Rule Number 1 – Eat Sensibly
The most important thing you can do in the area of your ‘diet’ is to eat sensibly and to eat well. For me, and this is probably restating the obvious for many, this means that there are certain specific things you do, do and eat, and there are very specific things you don’t do or eat (or eat minimally).
So with that in mind, what should you be eating?
OK, so we've looked at all the good stuff! What about the not so good stuff? Well, in the graphic below, I list out some of the stuff you should avoid eating or at least eat in much smaller quantities. There's nothing wrong with a treat every now and then 😉
Now, you can go into each one of these areas in great detail but, for me, if I stick with these guidelines, I should be doing pretty good. You are of course allowed to have a big sugary dessert or greasy fries and pizza but only every so often and sparingly. As a guideline, once or twice a week as a treat is a good rule of thumb. This is commonly referred to as a cheat meal in many exercise regimens.
Now, if we look at ‘Dieting’, where we radically change the intake, content and / or amounts of food for an extended period of time, to me it seems like shooting yourself in the foot in many cases. There are of course unique circumstances for each individual where dieting is completely appropriate. However, for people who are in general good health, dieting seems to, many times, have the opposite effect over the long term.
That is, when you start dieting you restrict your calorie intake either via content or quantity restriction. The human body is an incredibly efficient machine and so your body and metabolism, quite quickly I assume, adjust to this level of consumption. Inevitably, the restrictions of your dieting method of choice are broken and you return close to the level of food intake you previously had.
However, you now approach your old level of consumption with your new lower level of metabolism. Therefore, you have increased your calorie intake to your previous levels but you can’t process it at your previous level as your body has adjusted to the restrictions as part of your diet. The resulting effect, you not only put the weight you lost back on but likely add some more. To summarize, the dieting regimen you initially started to reduce weight, now actually ends up being the cause of you putting on more weight.
In many cases, the situation continues until another reason comes up to change and, nine times out of ten, people look to another dieting method. Unfortunately, it seems to me, the cycle described above is just repeated and so it continues again and again. The ‘Dieting Industry' is a multi-million, if not billion, dollar one so I think we can assume that the smart marketing folks in that industry know that people will be back time and again. A sound business model for them but not such a sound lifestyle model for the individual.
Now, I want to again stress again that I am not a dietitian or a nutritionist and as already mentioned, for some circumstances dieting is likely to be an appropriate course of action. However, the main thrust of what I am saying here, and it’s nothing we haven’t all heard many times before, is that first and foremost, we should eat a well-balanced diet of quality content and reasonable portion size.
That’s the first part of this equation to help with any weight loss plan. On to part two …
Golden Rule Number 2 – Exercise
Now we come to the second part of this simple equation to help with weight loss, and that is to exercise. While your ‘diet’ should always be balanced and made up of the appropriate mix and balance, exercise is a key part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In brief, the food you consume provides you with the energy to live and ideally you want to be burning any excess with some physical activity.
When trying to lose the pounds, there are any number of activities and exercise regimes that you can employ to get you started on the road to your ideal weight. I can’t say for certain but from what I have witnessed on this in friends and family who wish to lose weight, this can often start off quite gung-ho. For example, after a New Year’s blowout resolutions aplenty are quite often made.
Many times then, people put the cart before the horse and sign up for all sorts of intense exercise programs and they start, no pun intended, trying to climb a mountain from day one. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of these programs are good and they do work. However, I get the impression that many people take on too much too soon and eventually they move into overwhelm, get frustrated and pack it in.
They then console themselves with a trip to McDonald's for a super-sized feast before deciding that exercise just isn't for them and might not be the best approach after all, and they will approach the problem from a different angle and instead look to dieting!
And off back in the never ending circle they go. You can see how easy this can lead to the feeling of being stuck in a maze!
What I would like to suggest is that if you've tried multiple exercise regimes before but found that you couldn't stick with them, what about going out for a hike? I know, it doesn't sound too flashy!
- No super-fast weight loss promises
- No flashy gizmo’s to help you nail that perfect abs fat burning exercise
- No complex technical jargon to explain why this works while so many other approaches failed
Yes folks, I am indeed suggesting that, in combination with a balanced and healthy diet, the simple act of going out for a regular walk is the perfect place to get you started on the road to losing those extra pounds!
It's Healthy For Your Body!
OK, our primary goal in the context of this post is to lose weight. Absolutely! We are talking about exercise that will help with weight lose. However, we need to keep general physical health in mind. Many physical health regimes can do more damage than good. What about hiking?
First off, hiking forms an excellent aerobic exercise. Aside from reducing body fat, it helps:
- Improve circulation and oxygenate your body
- Increases energy and stamina
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Build muscle
This leads to all sorts of other health benefits which we'll explore more below.
I would also class hiking as an excellent anaerobic exercise. Anaerobic exercise is where you have short but intense bursts of activity e.g. sprints or HIIT (High Impact Interval Training) are some example. Although hiking would maybe not normally be considered a prime anaerobic activity, I do think you do get anaerobic benefits.
To illustrate, as you hike in mountains, the terrain of course changes. From flat, to steep, to downhill, etc. This means that your levels of exertion fluctuate. For example, when you approach a very steep climb on a mountain and you push yourself to maintain a steady and fast hiking pace, I think it feasible for you to experience anaerobic benefits for those shorter blasts of exertion. Perhaps not as intense as sprints yes, but I believe there is benefit all the same as your muscles are put under strain and you have to take a break.
Increased Chances of Long Term Success
So, why do I think this overall approach has a much better chance of long term success? Well, there are numerous reasons why I think this and I go through each one in more detail below … are you ready?
Easy To Get Started
Hiking is easy to get started with. You don’t even need to go to the mountains at first, there are many opportunities to get out for a good stretch of your legs locally in your town or city. Then before you know it you are, literally, climbing mountains as you take to the treks and trails in the hills surrounded by nature.
It can seem hard to get up early in the morning to go for a run or get in your car and drive to that gym, get changed and do the conditioning class. Putting on your boots and walking out your front door is not a difficult thing to get started on so it’s not hard to find some motivation to get you going.
Remember that exercise program that looked like a mountain mentioned above? You know what, because getting started with hiking is easy to do and you can see progress quite quickly, you start to build momentum quite quickly too!
All of a sudden that mountain of an exercise program, doesn't look so hard any more 😉 As you get fitter and challenge yourself more and more on the trail, it is much easier to look at taking on other exercise programs with much less fear of non-committal or failure. A positive reinforcing circle can be born and developed quite easily.
Minimal Start-up Costs
You never know, and I highly doubt this 😉 , but hiking simply may not be for you. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to find out. Simply get a good pair of hiking boots and a decent jacket, some additional items like gloves, hat and appropriate hiking pants (You can use your normal pants to get started with as long as the weather is favorable) and you are pretty much good to go!
You can determine your own pace. You don’t need to try and reach unattainable goals or punish yourself when you can’t keep up with the demands of a tough workout regime in conjunction with your busy life. Simply, start off by doing what you can. Set your first goal as walking three miles in your local park, neighborhood or along your local canal or river.
Then, simply build it up from there. The benefits start from day one and as you get more advanced and take on steeper mountains and trails, you will be giving your body a harder and tougher workout, all the while increasing your stamina and strengthening muscles!
Other Health Benefits
Aside from the obvious physical benefits, there are many other benefits to hiking. On a psychological and even spiritual level, getting out close to nature is just good for the body, mind and soul. I am convinced hiking can be looked on as a meditative mindfulness practice. At times on the trail, absolute presence and focus is required to ensure you don't trip up on a tricky climb or slip over a tricky rock on a rocky ridge. By default, at times you need to be very focused so monkey mind has to take a back seat.
On top of that, there's nothing quite like a good hike to help you have a good nights sleep, I can vouch for that 🙂 A good nights rest with proper sleep does wonders for general health. Assuming you stick with hiking and see some pounds drop off, your risk of developing diseases like Diabetes and heart disease will go down.
All of this can lead to less stress, anxiety and overall tension in your day-to-day life. So by starting regular hiking, or any other suitable exercise regime, it really is a circular benefit that is self perpetuating once you get it going.
As you get more into hiking you can discover wide social aspects to it. It is a perfect way to spend quality time with your nearest and dearest. You also have the option of joining a hiking club where you will meet lots of folks with whom you will most likely forge long term relationships and friendships. The folks you meet in hiking groups will also likely encourage you to push the boat out a bit more
From my experience of joining hiking groups, I have met people who I have ended up socializing outside of hiking in other social arenas and I have also arranged some amazing hiking trips with people I have met in hiking groups. My trip to Mont Blanc is a good example of this, I ended up going on that with a friend I made in a hiking group.
In short, the social possibilities are really endless, I see it all the time in the groups I hike with, I've even seen a few budding romances develop from people meeting in hiking groups, including one marriage!
I hope you enjoyed this post on how hiking can help you with weight loss, but before I leave this today, I again want to state that I am not a dietitian, nutritionist or physician. Everyone’s individual circumstances are unique and you should always consult with your physician or trusted health professional on any changes you are considering making to your diet or exercise plan to ensure they’re right for you!
However, as a general rule of thumb, the simple combination of eating right and getting suitable exercise, will steer most people on the right path to not only losing unwanted weight, but to also maintaining a decent general level of health and fitness. While this post was primarily about how hiking can help you lose weight, I think it important to point out the other benefits that can come from it on all the other levels that go to make up your health and state of being.
That is to say, it helps you stay healthy on all levels; body, mind and soul. I think when you feel good in your mind, and even spiritually, about the physical exercise or activity you are doing, you have a much better chance of long term success that is sustainable. That translates into a much better chance to lose weight and keep it off which is of course the main goal in this context. As you are still maintaining a reasonable diet with treats here and there, you won't feel deprived on that front either.
If you've never went hiking before but something in all the above appeals to you, why not give it a go? It’s easy to get started! Check out some of the posts here on Cool Hiking Gear or go through the getting started with hiking guide, and you will be out on the trail in no time 😉
What do you think, is hiking a good way to help you lose weight and stay healthy? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!